Win without Paul another step for Clippers 2.0
LOS ANGELES — If you think the Los Angeles Clippers are eventually going to turn into THOSE Clippers — think again.
Blake Griffin and his teammates are gaining confidence — and respect — every time they take the court, with Monday's 101-91 win over the New Jersey Nets being the latest example.
Chris Paul (hamstring) and Mo Williams (foot) sat out the game with injuries, so Randy Foye stepped off the bench to post 13 points and 10 assists. Chauncey Billups added 20 points, four assists and scored nine points down the stretch after the Clippers had blown all of an 18-point lead to the 3-11 Nets. Los Angeles is now 7-3 and leads the Pacific Division over the Lakers, and it's pretty safe to say that these aren't the Clippers who have frustrated their fans for most of the past 28 years since moving to L.A.
Even a year ago, they might have ended up losing by 10 points after giving back a comfortable lead. Mentally they could have caved, and the negativity would have plagued them for weeks. This Clippers squad, however, has undergone a major talent and character transformation, making it a dangerous team no matter the circumstances.
"We now have so many people who could start for other teams around the league, and that gives us (the depth) to play through the injuries and adversity and still win the game," Foye said.
"Last year we might have lost the game. Now we have the experience and maturity to handle the situation and win the game. For us to be successful, we have to stay together and play hard."
And continue to get superstar performances from their phenom, Blake Griffin.
An impressive array of dunks and spinning layups helped Griffin account for 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He also grabbed 14 boards. He's averaging 23.1 points and 11.1 boards, joining Orlando's Dwight Howard and Minnesota's Kevin Love as the only players averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Griffin was happy with the win but concerned that his team had tossed away a big lead.
"We played pretty good; it was a good win," said last season's Rookie of the Year. "But we should have never let it get to the point (of giving up the lead). We did a good job of grinding and doing what we needed to do to win.
"A win is a win, and we'll take it no matter how we get it."
Teammates and front-office personnel usually point to Griffin first when talking about how the Clips have seemingly shed the "loser" mentality. That mindset had turned the franchise into a national joke and stopped good players from considering signing with the team as free agents.
But when the Clippers picked Griffin as the No. 1 choice in the 2009 draft, opened their $50 million practice facility and began to make moves with the big picture in mind, players like Paul and Billups soon came to L.A.
And Griffin now has the talent around him to make the Clippers a serious contender.
"I believe that," Blake said, "and we've definitely gotten better in all areas. The improvement is because everybody in (this locker room) also believes in this team and each other to get the job done. Now we just have to keep working hard and keep it going.
"A game like today is one where we have to do a better job. When someone comes in the game, they have to play better in order to close it out. Doesn't matter who it is or what lineups we have in there, guys have to step up. In those situations we have to get better. And we will."
NOTES: Immediately after the game, the Clippers flew to Utah, where they face the Jazz on Tuesday. They'll be back home Wednesday night to take on the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
Griffin, Paul and Billups were named as finalists for the team that will represent the United States in the London Olympics this summer. For Paul, it would be his second trip to the Olympics. Griffin and Billups would be first-timers, saying they were honored to be among the final 20 players selected. Billups also said it would be among the biggest moments of his life, having always wanted to represent USA basketball in the Olympics. Miami also had three players chosen — LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Kobe Bryant is the Lakers' lone representative.
Paul and Williams are day-to-day with their injuries, as is reserve forward Brian Cook.