Welcome to “What Happened Last Night?” We’re back to the days of this post being dominated by basketball, so if you’re not the biggest basketball fan… we warned you. For the rest of you: come right in.
A few night ago the Clippers lost in an upset to the Magic, a team that had lost 10 straight going in to that game. The Magic got off to a surprisingly decent start this year, were playing hard for Jacque Vaughn, and had some close calls during that losing streak, but it was a 10-game losing streak nonetheless, and it was a major surprise that they would beat a team playing as well as the Clippers had been. You could have been forgiven if you’d seen that result and chuckled to yourself, “Heh, well, looks like the Clippers are being the Clippers again.”
Well, you’re not doing that this morning. Because last night, the Clippers rolled into Memphis against a 24-11 Grizzlies team (14-4 at home), and then rolled over the Grizzlies with a 99-73 win. L.A. won like it’s been winning all season – with a total team effort. No player scored more than 16 or played more than 33 minutes, but everyone contributed something. Look at the box score – no one had a spectacular stat line, but the individual efforts added up.
One individual effort we’d like to single out: the recently-returned-from-injury Grant Hill. We’ve mentioned a few times in this space how when he and Chauncey Billups were back, it could take the Clippers to still another level, and Hill showed why last night, with eight points, four rebounds, and four assists in just 17 minutes. He’s 40, but he’s still effective. And the team’s collective effort showed on defense: the Clips held the Grizzlies to 30.3 percent shooting. Granted, shooting that awful falls at least partly on the team doing the shooting, but safe to say that one of the league’s top defenses showed up extra ready to go to work.
Oh, and one more thing – the Clippers did it all without Chris Paul. That’s right the league’s best point guard, MVP candidate, the Clippers’ best player and key to the franchise turnaround, was out with a knee injury, and they still dominated the team that’s tied for the fourth-best record in the league. Obviously this kind of performance isn’t going to happen every night even when Paul is around, but the fact that the Clippers were able to do this at all is one more reason to take this team very, very seriously as a legitimate contender in the West.
Damn, Heat. (And not in a good way.)
We can’t ay a whole lot more than Brian Windhorst did here – he’s observing the Heat a lot more closely than we are. And he rightly points out that a bad stretch in the middle of the season isn’t reason to believe the sky is falling, since the Heat have done more or less the same thing over the past couple seasons. But that doesn’t mean there’s no reason for concern. There are issues in Miami – stemming largely, it seems, from tensions between personnel – and efforts like the Heat’s 104-97 loss to the Jazz last night (that only got that close because of a late rally when LeBron played without Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh on the floor) are only going to exacerbate those issues.
Granted, most teams would kill to have the issues that come partly from having so many good players on one team – a team that still has a 24-12 record, best in the East, despite its struggles. But they’re issues nonetheless, ones the Heat will have to work through if they want to repeat. If they rip off a lengthy winning streak starting with their next game, which is always a possibility for a team with this much potential, those issues will likely be forgotten. But they’re there, and to prove they can overcome them, the Heat have got to get better fast. If they don’t, someone’s going to get quite the talking-to from Pat Riley.
Around the Association…
The Bulls beat the Hawks 97-58. That score is correct. Here is our commentary on the Hawks’ performance.
Elsewhere: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 77 (and 47 of the team’s 51 in the second half) to lead the Thunder to a 102-90 win over the Suns. The Celtics rode Rajon Rondo’s latest triple-double (17/10/12) to a 100-89 win over the Bobcats. The Mavs beat the T-Wolves 113-98 as O.J. Mayo kept playing well (20 points, seven boards, nine assists). The Wizards got a rare dominant win, shellacking the Magic 120-91. And the Kings overcame Dion Waiters’ 33 to beat the Cavs 124-118 – DeMarcus Cousins played some more excellent basketball, with 26 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and three blocks.
Not much top 25 action, no upsets. New No. 1 Louisville looked the part, though, dominating UConn in the second half for a 73-58 win. We’ll see how long they can hold down the top spot.
Aussie Open action…
No real upsets here, either, in either the men’s or women’s draw. And that’s a good thing. Upsets are fun, but you know what’s more fun? Top-quality tennis, and the best players in the world are so good right now that when they square off, the matches are almost always outstanding. Just look at least year’s Nadal-Djokovic final, an instant classic. Here’s hoping for another. (One thing to watch for: Serena Williams rolled her ankle in her match, but still cruised to a 6-0, 6-0 demolition.)
It’s sure shaping up like one for Mike McCoy. For the Chargers? We’ll see.
Photos via Getty