NEW ORLEANS – The Clippers came into New Orleans with a mindset that we have not seen in some time against the Pelicans. After a little bit of a slow start, the Clippers took the lead in the first quarter and never looked back. Paul George led the way with 24 points on 6 three pointers, while Kawhi Leonard added 19 points and 9 rebounds to put the game away. James Harden did not even need to do much scoring against a very lengthy Pelicans squad, but had 13 assists to keep the ball moving.
The Clippers are now 22-12 and the 4th seed in the Western Conference.
Here are my three takeaways:
George has been notorious for being smooth with his handle, footwork and ability to get to the rim throughout his career. Although he definitely still has that ability, George has settled into more of a spread the floor, catch and shoot type player, and thrived in it. On Friday, George took 10 three pointers and made 6 of them, mostly from the passes of James Harden.
Those two have found a fantastic rhythm and seem to be locked into their roles on the court, with Harden being a pass first guard and Paul George being a lethal spot up shooter. Both of these players have had their fair share of All-Star appearances, All-NBA selections and should both be on their way to the Hall of Fame, but sacrificing their star roles for the betterment of the team has been a spectacular development.
I was one of the many skeptics that did not believe in the fit of James Harden with the Clippers initially. After the 6 game losing streak that sent the Clippers to a low of lows, it was clear Harden and the team needed a change. As soon as Russell Westbrook decided to come off the bench to help the rotations, Harden was unleashed.
He is averaging close to 20 points per game, on almost 9 assists and playing the best defense of his career. Not just that, but Harden doesn’t even need to score at the level he was in years past. He had only 8 points against the Pelicans, but distributed the ball amongst his teammates and got the stars into positions to succeed (13 assists), as he has since the beginning of December. I think it’s safe to say the system works…
That is a pretty bold statement, but one that has plenty of merit. Forget the accolades, the All-Star selections, the All-NBA nods and future Hall of Famer labels, this team as currently constructed is the most talented Clipper team of all-time. Yes, that is even with the days of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, and others. This group of playing with an intensity and hunger that has elevated their games to be both cerebral and successful, which is something that I have only seen matched by the 2021 team that got to the Western Conference Finals.
No matter what is thrown at the Clippers right now, they thwart it, and if another team goes on a run, they regroup and counter it. That is what championship caliber teams do. Not just with their play, but with the mindset and taking care of their bodies. We have said for years that all the Clippers need is a fully healthy year for them to be legitimate, and now, the team is backing up those claims at an even higher level than expected. There is still plenty of season left and a long way to go until things are all set in stone, but the Clipper team (knock on wood) looks locked in, athletic, and ready to contend.
The Clippers head back home to take on their rival Lakers at Crypto.com Arena. Tip-off Sunday is set for 6:30 PM PST.