If you were unable to stay awake for the late game on Monday night, you have my condolences. The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Houston Rockets 137-118 in a game that saw the Clipper score 100 points before the end of the third quarter. Both teams had 40+ point quarters — Los Angeles in the first, Houston in the second. The game was a bevy of alley-oops and a bounty of 3-pointers; it was Chris Paul making defenders look silly, regardless of how tightly they stayed with him for 90% of a possession and Dwight Howard taking advantage of foul trouble for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin to bully his way into the post for monstrous smashes.
It was beauty, in a word. To see the top two offenses in the league going at it was sheer joy incarnate, and it was all made possible by the fact that both teams have been really, really bad on defense this season. The Clippers sport the NBA’s worst defensive rating, and Houston’s in the bottom half of the league (even after games against the Charlotte Bobcats and Utah Jazz, two of the worst offenses through four games). And in the regular season, I’m not sure we could ask for anything more.
Don’t get me wrong. I love defense. I love to watch Marc Gasol prevent opposing point guards from penetrating into the lane simply by existing. Joakim Noah, when he’s healthy, skitters from block to block and baseline to the perimeter with all the fevered tenacity of a 6-year old on a sugar high. Roy Hibbert’s ability to leap perpendicular to the floor and snuff any attempts at the rim is downright ethereal, eliciting haunting gasps and rueful shakes of the head. And lest I limit my love to the centers who serve as linchpins to their defensive systems, it’s always a pleasure to watch Ricky Rubio ply his trade on the defensive end, using his ridiculously long arms to fill passing lanes and trap guards foolish enough to pick up their dribble anywhere in his general vicinity.
But the heart wants what the heart wants. And in the regular season, especially this early in the year, the heart wants fast-paced contests that light up the scoreboard. That desire is not without its drawbacks; if teams continue to falter on defense throughout the regular season, taking their game to the next level in the postseason becomes all but impossible. And if every game is Clippers/Rockets, that starts to take some of the luster off of the cosmic feats of strength and speed to which we’re privy. It takes the Celtics and the Nuggets of the league to make us appreciate nigh-perfection when it’s presented to us.
For now, though, save the defense for the playoffs, when every possession is the difference between championship aspirations and summer vacation. Give me alley-oops. Give me 3-pointers. Give me breakneck pace and outlet passes to a skying Blake Griffin. Defense turns the postseason into a morality play of inches. Let the regular season be kabuki theater. Let the offense flow.
Statistical support courtesy of NBA.com/stats