And with Jordan developing into a bona fide star and not just an upper-tier center, the playoff ceiling rises even higher. Sure, the Clippers are currently in the midst of an intense first-round battle against the Golden State Warriors, but the entire Western Conference seems to be in shambles.
Hell, it's possible the Memphis Grizzlies have become the favorites, with the San Antonio Spurs faltering against the Dallas Mavericks and no other squad but the Portland Trail Blazers looking even remotely dominant.
Well, it would be possible. But there's one slight problem.
Now that the Sterling drama is turning into a positive for the Clippers' future and Jordan is breaking out, they're becoming the favorites.
Dominant Game 5
If you're looking for the impetus behind Los Angeles' Game 5 victory, look no further than the man in the middle.
Jordan flat out exploded for 25 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, numbers that are just about unsurpassed in recent history:
Let's go back further than that.
According to Basketball-Reference, only eight players in NBA history have ever matched or exceeded those numbers: Jordan, Tim Duncan (five times), Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Shawn Kemp, Jermaine O'Neal, Shaquille O'Neal (four times) and Hakeem Olajuwon (four times).
Jordan's performance shouldn't be taken lightly, especially given the circumstances—a crucial Game 5 when the team desperately needed a spark in the wake of the Sterling turmoil—and the pedigree of the players who have put up those marks before him. Every one of those big men was an All-Star, and only two (Jermaine O'Neal and Kemp) aren't Hall of Fame talents.
To make things even more impressive, Jordan recorded an assist and a steal, and he took only 10 shots from the field. That's right, he shot 8-of-10 during the course of action and knocked down nine free throws, albeit on 17 attempts.
Between his stanchion-shaking dunks, his athletic rebounds, his vituperative rejections and his all-around enthusiasm for the game, Jordan was the clear standout on Tuesday night, even if the afternoon's proceedings didn't allow the focus to rest on him.
But this wasn't exactly new.
Dominance Extends Throughout the Series
As ESPN's J.A. Adande made clear, Jordan has been the emotional fulcrum throughout the first-round series with the Dubs:
No player's numbers had been more indicative of the Clippers' emotional swing than DeAndre Jordan's. He had a purposeful 22 rebounds, 14 points and 5 blocked shots in the Game 3 win on Thursday. In Sunday's Game 4, after the Clippers spent all of Saturday dealing with the Sterling fallout, Jordan posted six rebounds and no points in the dismal loss that evened the series at 2-2. He bounced back Tuesday with monster stats: 25 points, 18 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. He even made 6 of 8 free throws in the fourth quarter, helping to hold off the Warriors in the Clippers' 113-103 victory, which put them up 3-2 in the series.
Now, let's throw aside that miserable Game 4 performance.
After all, the circumstances prevented the Clippers from playing to their full potential, and Jordan took that to an extreme. He appeared unenthused, disengaged and somnambulant throughout various stages of the game, and it's not entirely fair to hold those numbers against him.
"We can say it wasn't a distraction, but it definitely was a distraction. It showed in our play [in Game 4]," the big man said after his Game 5 outburst, via Adande. "We weren't urgent at all. We were kind of going through the motions up there. But tonight we got back to our task and we got back to focusing on our opponent, which is the Warriors."
So let's throw out Game 4.
Over the course of the other quartet of outings, Jordan has averaged an impressive 15.3 points, 15.8 rebounds and 4.8 blocks per game. And he's done that while shooting 70 percent from the field and 54.8 percent at the charity stripe.
Those numbers, as you can see below, are far better than the ones he was posting throughout the regular season, which was already strong enough for him to make a bit of noise in the Most Improved Player race.
|Still Getting Better|
Granted, Jordan has been spending more time on the court, but he's putting up numbers at higher rates and with more efficiency. It's hard to complain about that.
Don't think this is a reaction to Game 5. It's not.
Instead, it's a reaction to a series-long stretch of impressive performances, ones that only build upon the improvements Jordan showcased throughout the vast majority of the regular season.
When Jordan is in peak form, he's able to make a significant impact on both ends of the court.
Offensively, he can be a valuable player even when he's not scoring. Just the sheer mass of his body and the insane athleticism that often results in thunderous slams off alley-oop feeds demand defensive attention, and that sucks in the entire opposition. Players have to remain in the paint, and then everything starts flowing for the Clippers.
Defensively, Jordan's impact is even more significant, as he's a stellar last line of defense for LAC.
According to NBA.com's SportVU data, Jordan has faced 11.6 shots per game at the rim during the postseason—a mark that leaves him trailing only Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge—and has held opponents to 44.8 percent shooting. Compare that to the regular season, where his numbers were 10.3 and 49.4, respectively.
Once more, he's improved. And this time, it's such a big improvement that his defensive impact can't be overstated for the Clippers.
"The key was making Jordan not just understand how much of an impact he could make in this role, but inspiring him to embrace it. It's one thing to accept something; it's another to love it and become it," wrote ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne even before Jordan's impressive performance in Game 3.
The big man has fully embraced his role, and he's terrorizing the Warriors with his shot-blocking prowess and rim-rattling slams. And just as he's started to love that spot in the L.A. lineup, so too do the Clippers love having him in it.
When this team entered the postseason with a 57-25 record that granted them the No. 3 seed in the brutally difficult Western Conference, they were one of the squads that actually seemed capable of going all the way.
But assuming they survive the Andrew Bogut-less storm thrown at them by Golden State, which was only intensified by the Sterling situation, Jordan has now ensured that they're in even better shape.
If a championship is in the cards, a certain 6'11" center will deserve to lift up the Larry O'Brien Trophy higher than anyone else.
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