When the then-New Jersey Nets traded for Deron Williams, General Manager Billy King repeatedly said that he felt Deron Williams was the league's best point guard. Though the past two seasons may have changed his mind, last night was a stark reminder: Chris Paul is the league's best point guard, and everyone else is racing for second.
Fueled by Paul, who finished with 29 points -- 17 in the fourth quarter, including 9-9 from the free throw line -- and 11 assists, the Los Angeles Clippers hung around for three quarters before blowing it up in the fourth, turning a 75-70 deficit after three quarters into a 101-95 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
"We put ourselves in a position to win the game, and they did a much better job closing it out then we did," Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo told reporters after the game. "It's another day. Overall we played a really good game… there were a lot of good things. we got a big lift from the (second) team in the first half, in the second half, we didn't get that same lift."
The Nets played the Clippers relatively evenly in the first few 45 minutes. Reggie Evans kept superathlete Blake Griffin in check, Deron Williams & Joe Johnson had effective moments, Brook Lopez scored inside and out, including a beautiful out-of-bounds play that tied the game at 90 with 2:32 left.
That's when all hell broke loose.
A Chris Paul long two-pointer. A long, missed three-pointer by Deron Williams. A careless, lackadaisical pass from Deron Williams that Jamal Crawford read, picked, and drove to the other end for a dunk. A fifty-second possession for Los Angeles that changed the complexion of the game, even though they didn't score. An unbelievable shot from Paul in which he switched hands in mid-air -- twice -- and still scored through contact, drawing a foul and putting the Clippers up five with just 22 seconds left. Another missed isolation three from Johnson, and that was that.
I know it only means so much, but this is an eight-game road trip, and the Nets weren't going 8-0 on it. Outside of the Nuggets, the Clippers posed the biggest threat to the Nets on this road trip, and the Nets did play a solid game given the competition. Could they have won? Absolutely. But the Clippers are a better team, and Brooklyn's suffered far worse losses this season.
Add in that Joe Johnson suffered a quad contusion in the third quarter, causing him to miss minutes in the fourth, and the loss -- though avoidable -- could have been worse. Carlesimo insinuated after the game that Johnson was only playing so that his quad wouldn't tighten up. Johnson is questionable for tomorrow.
The Clippers didn't reinvent the wheel in the game-deciding fourth quarter, they merely rolled with what they had: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, with two players spacing the floor. On nearly every crunch time possession, the Clippers sent one of either Griffin or Jordan to set a high screen for Paul, and let Paul do the rest -- whether that be look to score, look to lob, or look to dish to an open shooter. That's multiple high-octane weapons at once. They're the super-weapon Betty White made out of nine tools in Community. The Nets in the fourth quarter were Jeff Winger. Joe Johnson was wounded respect.
Put it this way: 47 wins means 35 losses. This was one of them. Better it comes against a team as good as the Clippers. This was indicative of where these two teams are right now. If the Nets are healthy tomorrow and lose a bad one to the Phoenix Suns, I'll be more worried.