BEST OF 2012-13: CLIPPERS 5 BEST ROAD WINS
Over the next few months, Clippers.com will continue its retrospective into the Clippers’ historic 2012-13 season. In addition, to our “A Season to Remember” editorial piece, video recaps, and taking a look back at each individual on the roster, we will also feature a “Best of” series. The first installment will take a look at the five best road wins of the year.
The Clippers won a franchise-record 24 games away from home, finishing with the Grizzlies tied for third in the NBA behind Oklahoma City and Miami. There were at least half of those games that had significant implications in some way. For example, they won in Sacramento on the final day of the regular season to shore up home-court advantage in the first round and overcome a hostile and inspired Kings fan base that was potentially seeing their final game in California’s capital city. That may have been one of the dozen best road wins, but did not crack our top five.
Not included among the list of “best” wins on the road were five of the six road victories during the historic 17-game winning streak and only one of the top five were against the Eastern Conference even though the Clippers won away from home against four of the eight teams in the playoffs on that side of the bracket.
Ultimately, the list was determined by the magnitude of the victory, the quality of the opponent and any peripheral circumstances that helped distinguish it from others. Before delving into the top five, here are six significant road victories that did not make the cut: Chicago, Indiana, Memphis in January without Chris Paul in the lineup, the Lakers in the second game of the season and the aforementioned Sacramento game.
The winning streak had already reached historic proportions. The Clippers had won 14 games in the month of December, 15 in a row overall, and were poised to have a letdown traveling to Salt Lake City on the second night of a back-to-back after a rousing victory over the Boston Celtics at Staples Center a night earlier. EnergySolutions Arena, regardless of how well the Jazz are playing, has long been one of the most daunting venues for a visiting team and the Clippers entered the Dec. 28 game with 16 losses in their last 18 games there.
The weary-legged Clippers got off to a seven-point lead, but the bench gave it all back in the second quarter, allowing the Jazz to go on a 26-4 run and seize control of the game. The winning streak was on life support by the eight-minute mark of the third quarter when Utah led by 19 points. Everything turned around from there. They erased a chunk of the deficit heading into the final 12 minutes and after exchanging baskets for several possessions, finally took the lead for good on a jumper by Paul over Gordon Hayward. He finished with a then season-high 29 points, including nailing three of his four free throws at the end. Former Clippers guard Randy Foye missed a potentially winning 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Clippers escaped, extending the franchise-record winning streak to 16 and setting a new franchise record with the seventh road win in a row.
The Clippers heard the rumblings at the time. They were coming off a 22-point loss to the Miami Heat and had struggled at times over the last month. Paul had missed 12 games, before returning at Miami, and Chauncey Billups was out for 34 games before playing limited minutes against the Heat. Much had been made of the Clippers’ struggles in big games and with the Knicks playing well and the game at Madison Square Garden featured on ABC’s national NBA showcase, this was an opportunity to quickly dispense of the bad taste left from the Miami loss. Throw in an impending blizzard, travel uncertainty and the fact that the Clippers were trying to keep pace in what would be a historic playoff race in the West and this was one of the bigger games of the regular season.
For the first time, since the winning streak ended on Jan. 1, the Clippers looked dominant. Their lineup was at close to full strength, with Grant Hill and Billups both available and they set the tone early, scoring 52 points in the first half and keeping New York’s 3-point shooting prowess at bay. Still, the Knicks battled back to take the lead behind a transcendent game from Carmelo Anthony. He had 18 of his 42 points in the third quarter and gave the Knicks a one-point lead early in the fourth. That’s when Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro threw Hill at Anthony and the 40-year-old forward helped slow down the Knicks’ star. Paul scored 25 points with seven assists and six rebounds and along with a team-high 27-point effort off the bench by Jamal Crawford, the Clippers pulled away in the fourth and moved to 3-4 on their Grammy road trip.
Clippers vs. Lakers always lends itself to being somewhat of sideshow, even when the matchup was somewhat one-sided there was always a little more of a buzz in the city when the so-called hallway rivals met. In the last three seasons, since the arrival of Blake Griffin, the matchups have been more contentious and have effectively become a top regular-season draw since Paul was added to the equation. All four games were on national television, but the Valentine’s Day outing was particularly intriguing. It was the final game on the schedule before the All-Star break and the Lakers were entering one of their better stretches, winning eight of their previous 11 games and attempting to gain needed momentum before the season’s second half.
So much for that. The Clippers rolled off the first 15 points of the game and Griffin scored 18 of his 22 points in the opening quarter. The Clippers led wire-to-wire and by as many as 28, scored 31 points or more in each of the first three quarters, made 16 3-pointers, and got 20 points or more from Griffin, Paul and Billups, who made five of his seven shots from beyond the arc. It was arguably as convincing of a victory the Clippers had all season over any of the 16 playoff teams. It also cemented the season series over the Lakers for the first time since 1992-93 and was two points shy of the largest road margin of victory against the Lakers.
After a win in San Antonio in March 2012 snapped a nearly two-decade losing streak in the Alamo City, the new-look Clippers headed back there for their third road game and opener of their first road trip of the season in 2012-13. It was the second game of the year against San Antonio, who would reside in the top of the Western Conference standings for most of the season before ultimately falling to No. 2 behind the Thunder. It was an intriguing test for the Clippers, particularly after a home-heavy schedule saw them play 10 of their first 11 games at Staples Center.
The first game outside of the Pacific Coast did not start out well. The Clippers fell down by double digits in the first quarter, but as they did so often this season, the bench helped bring them back, closing the gap by halftime. Caron Butler, who was injured in the previous game against the Chicago Bulls, left the game after just nine minutes, which opened the door for Matt Barnes. He had 14 points and nine rebounds and scored on three possessions in row during a 23-5 second quarter run. Ronny Turiaf, who had two points and three rebounds in five fourth-quarter minutes, and Barnes were catalysts for the victory, but Paul locked it up with a turnaround jumper that extended the lead to four with 24.3 seconds left.
The matchup was dubbed Game 1 of 8, with the two teams seemingly destined for a first-round rematch a week later. It has a different feel now that the Clippers’ season was ended at the hands of the Grizzlies in the playoffs, but the 80th game of the regular season was arguably as big as any up and to that point. The Clippers were a game behind Memphis in the standings and effectively whoever won that final Saturday would have the upper hand for home-court advantage in the first round (the Clippers owned the tiebreaker thanks to their Pacific Division title). Both teams were playing well at the time and the Clippers were coming off a double-digit comeback victory at New Orleans the night before.
DeAndre Jordan set the tone for the Clippers in the first half, battling soon-to-be Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, on his way to 16 points and eight rebounds in the first half. The Grizzlies had a run in them and appeared to grab control of a game that was the Clippers’ to lose with a third-quarter spurt. But an unlikely bench lineup that included Ryan Hollins, Lamar Odom and Hill went on a 14-0 run. Hill scored five points in the stretch and made a key blocked shot on a Jerryd Bayless layup attempt in transition. The game became a defensive struggle down the stretch and Jordan rejected a Mike Conley floater out of bounds and Griffin tipped an entry pass away from Zach Randolph in the waning seconds. Crawford sealed the game with a pair of free throws on the other end and the Clippers took the season series with the Grizzlies 3-1.