NBA 2011-12: LA Clippers: Maturity Is a New Part of the Equation
There are certain things a team needs to be considered a championship caliber team. First, a team needs a star or go-to player. Every championship team in the last decade has featured at least one star. Some teams were lucky enough to have more than one. Last year's champion Dallas Mavericks featured Dirk Nowitzki. The Los Angeles Lakers have arguably the second best shooting guard in NBA history in Kobe Bryant in that role. The Boston Celtics already had Paul Pierce and were fortunate enough land two more to accompany him when they acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
The Clippers now have that player in Chris Paul, who many dub as the best point guard in the game today. To go along with Chris Paul, they were lucky enough to land another go-to player who is excellent in the clutch when they got Chauncey Billups.
Some may think that the Clippers already had a star in Blake Griffin, but as talented as Griffin is, he is still learning how to be a total go-to player and an ultimate leader. Paul is already there in that role.
Another characteristic a championship caliber team needs is defensive toughness. The Celtics demonstrated this ability as a team the best out of the past decade of champions. The Spurs championship teams showed very similar defensive toughness. This is the ability to get stops on defense when it is absolutely necessary. The ability to cause a turnover, force a team into taking a bad shot or forcing a team to not get a shot off before the shot clock expires is an ability that all teams strive for, but very few obtain.
The Clippers have only shown this ability in spurts and need to be more consistent. When the Miami Heat came to town, the Clippers carried a substantial lead for most of the game. In the fourth quarter, the Heat, lead by LeBron James, made a furious comeback and threatened to take the lead. The Clippers stopped this run by getting key steals by Chris Paul and timely block shots by center DeAndre Jordan. This skill needs to be demonstrated on a more consistent basis.
The last characteristic attributed to a championship caliber team is mental toughness or what some refer to as maturity.
Many times a team can experience a game that is emotionally draining and not be mentally tough enough to immediately put it past them and be ready for the next opponent. This task is especially tough when that next game is the very next evening.
The Clippers are starting to show this trait on consistent level. Two days ago the Clippers lost a physically and mentally tough game against their intercity rivals the Los Angeles Lakers. This was the second time facing the Lakers in six games. The Clippers handily defeated the Lakers in the first meeting, prompting the buzz around the city to have people debating whether the Clippers are now the new kings of L.A.
The second meeting, much like the first, was very physical. Six technical fouls were called and one Laker, Josh McRoberts, was ejected. The Clippers led for most of the game, until the Lakers took their level a physicality up a notch. The Clippers end up losing by five.
The next night the Clippers faced another formidable foe in the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are themselves beginning to be established as a quality playoff team as they made a serious push in last year's playoffs by eliminating the Spur and taking the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games before losing.
The Clippers mental toughness prevailed by defeating the Grizzlies in another tough game. There were several lead changes and the Clippers had to withstand good games by Rudy Gay, USC collegiate standout O.J. Mayo, and Marc Gasol, who many experts and analysts around the NBA, like current TNT commentator and soon to be Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, think is the second best center in the NBA behind Orlando's Dwight Howard.
The mature, new, Clipper team got significant contributions from Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Caron Butler and off the bench from Mo Williams.
If the Clippers can continue to add championship characteristics to the profile of their team, by season's end, we could possibly find them playing for the western conference title, or even better, the NBA championship.
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