The long wait is over, the NBA streak that threatened to last a lifetime or maybe forever is finally finished and now we can all get on with our lives.
But enough about JaVale McGee hitting the first three-pointer of his idiosyncratic career.
Yes, it was that kind of night in Denver, where the Clippers lost a game for the first time in five weeks. Nobody had a better December except Kris Kringle, because the Clippers ran the table and ran their winning streak to 17, the longest in the NBA in five years, before going 0-for-2013. This was bound to happen -- meaning the loss to the Nuggets, not the continuation of the streak -- when you consider the Clippers really weren’t tested all that much while they were winning.
Yes, they did beat the Nuggets in LA back on Christmas. But that was a whipped Denver team which, no thanks to the heartless schedule-makers, played twice as many games on the road as they did at home. On Tuesday the Nuggets took control early and easily, raised the lead to 19 points, saw McGee swish a three at the third-period buzzer and won 92-78 without Ty Lawson.
The Clippers were surely going to get ambushed anyway during this current stretch of games, if not by Denver then surely the frisky and improved Warriors, who see the Clippers twice, or maybe the reinvigorated Lakers on Friday.
Anyway, now that they’ve come back to earth, what have we learned about the team that looked very un-Clipper-like for over a month?
1. Well, the Clippers, despite all that winning, don’t own the best record in the NBA. That belongs to the Thunder, one of a handful of contenders the Clippers didn’t see during the streak. LA beat up mostly on bottom-feeders and average talent to reach 17 straight, and that’s why the streak didn’t exactly have the ring of something truly historic. It was a nice little run, but let’s not get carried away. We’re not taking anything away from the Clippers. But: No OKC, no Spurs, no Heat, no Grizzlies, no Knicks … you get the point. They beat Utah three times. Whoopee.
2. Lest you forget, the Clippers flirted with discontent just before the streak started by losing four straight, the last coming at home to the Hornets without Anthony Davis, which dropped the Clips to 8-6. That’s when Vinny Del Negro, as you might expect, had more fingers pointed at him than an elevator button. Here’s what Chris Paul said after the New Orleans game: “We lost to a very -- let me choose my words -- not very talented team, but well-coached.” Hmmm. Paul once played for Monty Williams and enjoyed the experience. Does anyone ever recall him saying something like that about Del Negro, who doesn’t have a contract for next season?
3. Jamal Crawford, based on a quick start, is among the better off-season pickups by any team. Last season he looked lost in Portland and was a bit of a disappointment as he tried and mostly failed to replace Brandon Roy. But his scoring, shooting percentage, minutes and role have all hiked with the Clippers, and other than Paul and Blake Griffin he probably had more to do with the streak than anyone. Once again he’s in the running for best Sixth Man.
4. It’s too early to say the Clippers are the class of the West. They did put themselves in the conversation as one of the conference’s best four teams, and among the top half-dozen in the league. The bench is better, but remember, other than Crawford, this is essentially the same team personnel-wise as last season. Lamar Odom is still too out of shape to contribute much, and Chauncey Billups may never be the player he was before Achilles surgery. If they’re rolling in the springtime, anything can happen, especially if they keep playing defense like this (No. 4 in the NBA). But they can also lose in the second round.
5. Paul confirms almost on a nightly basis that he’s the best point guard in basketball. The Clippers are lucky to have him: He’s high on character, leadership, smarts and talent, a complete-package player who’ll command and deserve a max contract next summer. And he’ll get one from the Clippers. Whether he accepts it is a different story. It all depends on what happens between now and then.
Let’s take a minute and salute the Clippers for a job well done. Just the same … their job isn’t done. In a warped kind of way, the streak will place even more pressure on Del Negro to make sure the Clippers stay among the elite. Basically, by winning 17 straight, the Clippers set themselves up for the kind of success they’ve never had as a franchise -- or a second-half stumble that will make folks wonder if they’re legit as a title contender.