Consider Wednesday’s Clippers/Timberwolves clash the best case scenario for November basketball. Half the teams in the league are trying to figure out their identities, either underperforming (Brooklyn and New York) or over-performing (what up, Philadelphia!). But even as real, respectable team basketball won’t peak until the winter months, we can still allow ourselves to get enchanted by the league’s undeniable star power. And Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio offer just that.
The game was as close as fans could have wanted, with L.A.’s former “other”, current favorite team taking home the W, 102-98.
Chris Paul led the way with 20 points and 11 assists*, setting the offensive tempo for the Clips. But Blake Griffin’s defense deserves as much credit; he shut down Kevin Love, he of the jaw-dropping 27-13-5 stat line coming into the game. Love, in the thick of an entirely-too-early MVP debate, finished 2-14 for 10 points. The two will battle again down the road, but no matter how you cut it, Griffin shut down Minnesota’s best player.
Still, that the Timberwolves made this game so competitive with such a quiet night from their star player bodes well. We knew going into the season that the Clips would be contending all year long. But the Wolves are a deep, talented squad. Rubio continues to make strides as a playmaker, averaging 9 assists per contest (give him a consistent jump-shot and he’s an All-Star); Kevin Martin is off to an incredibly hot start, proving a perfect complement to Rubio in the backcourt; and in Nikola Pekovic, a perfect, bruising complement to Love’s finesse game. Another experienced wing and some depth behind their starting bigs, and Minnesota can strive for more than just first-round fodder.
And not much else needs to be said about the Clippers. They’re a top-4 team in the West. That JJ Redick/Jared Dudley pickup really completes their lineup.
* — Trivia fans: the box score marked Paul’s 12th straight double-double to start the year, a mark breaks Magic Johnson’s previous record set in the ’90-91 season.