Blake Griffin applauds his team's effort during the second quarter. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Another game, another win for the Clippers, a phrase that has been getting a lot of use lately and is sounding more natural every time you hear it.
The Clippers on Thursday added the 15th gem to their string of consecutive wins, overpowering the Boston Celtics with a 60-point first half in a 106-77 rout at an energized Staples Center. Coach Vinny Del Negro will surely find fault with something — he and his self-policing players always see some flaw, a key reason this team isn't likely to become complacent — but the Clippers proved again they've become capable of rising to an occasion instead of playing down to their opposition.
They got balanced scoring and fought the Celtics for every rebound and 50-50 ball. They played with physicality, passion and energy and showed no signs of letting up as they prolonged their historic and memorable streak to 15, the longest in the NBA since the 2008-09 Celtics won 19 in a row.
"Time will tell exactly what level we're going to be at," Del Negro said, "and I think we have a good balance in the locker room that will give us an opportunity to stay grounded and to understand that there's a lot more work to be done."
The Clippers maintained their lofty position atop the NBA standings despite a relatively ordinary game from Blake Griffin (15 points) and a foul-plagued game by DeAndre Jordan. Caron Butler had 14 points and Chris Paul had 11 assists but the bench excelled again — another phrase getting a lot of use — and extended their lead while taking the burden off the starters.
Matt Barnes came off the bench to lead both teams with 21 points, Jamal Crawford had 17 and Lamar Odom contributed five assists and 13 rebounds.
Altogether, it was another formidable display in a season that has become a succession of did-you-see-that moments for a team that has rarely experienced such success.
"I thought our bench when I was with the Clippers was better," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, who played for the Clippers in the 1991-92 season, joked before the game. "Olden Polynice, Loy Vaught — that was a hell of a bench. You guys have amnesia."
He got a good laugh for that, but quickly turned serious.
"It's rare to see a team this deep and talented. What's scary is two of their guys aren't even playing yet," Rivers said, referring to the injured Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups. "That's a deep basketball team."
The Clippers' belief in themselves is becoming as solid as their balance. Something new and wonderful is emerging from the soil of so many old losses and past failures, and they're savoring every moment of its growth.
"It is a sense that it is something special going on here," said guard Willie Green, starting again in place of Billups.
"I think that for us to continue, to keep the specialness going on, we all have to do our parts. Everybody has a different role, and great teams become great when everybody understands their role. They just continue to get better at that."
Part of the Clippers' improvement has been the ability to maintain a steady level emotionally. Paul is their conscience and also their chief critic, when need be. He knows when to keep the mood serious and when to make it light. "We have some good leaders in the locker room," Del Negro said.
This is unexplored territory for the Clippers. They expect success now, not just hope for it, and that's a crucial step in the development of any winning team.
Reserve Ronny Turiaf said the streak isn't weighing on players' minds.
"I was just talking to Jamal about it and he said, 'Man, we just won 15 games in a row.' And I was like, 'It sure don't feel like it,'" Turiaf said. "We still feel like we have room to improve. We still feel like we can get better in certain areas. We're looking forward to the challenge.
"To be honest with you we're not even thinking about it. It's weird. We're just having fun. Life is too short to worry about the future, to worry about all that stuff. We're in the now right now, we're having a blast, and that's what life should be all about: Take care of yourself, have fun, play for each other and just hope for the rest. We're just trying to ride the wave."
So far, they're doing it swimmingly.