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The Clippers rallied from 14 down at halftime to beat the Jazz in Wednesday night's preseason home opener for LA, 96-94. Blake Griffin led all scorers with 23 points.
There's not a lot of point in overanalyzing preseason wins and losses. It's preseason -- wins and losses literally don't matter. But we can look at the games and see how individuals play, and project into what might be important in the regular season. And after a lackluster first half in which the Clippers looked like the jet-lagged team they were, the team came out and played much better in the second half to beat the Utah Jazz, 96-94. Is it a coincidence that the second half started about noon in Shanghai, where the Clippers had played a day game over the weekend?
As we've been doing this preseason, let's look at some of the individual performances to see what there was to like (a lot) or not like (not much, especially after half time).
- Blake Griffin looked pretty terrific. He made his mark all over the stat sheet, with 23 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals. He made 11-20 field goal attempts, including a couple of jump shots. In a surprisingly physical game for the preseason, the Jazz were doing a lot of reaching and grabbing, and it looked for a moment in the third quarter that it was starting to get to Griffin. But he kept his head, found his second wind, and took it to Paul Millsap and the rest of the Jazz. A very nice game for Blake.
- After three straight games in the mid 20s in turnovers, the Clippers turned the ball over just 12 times Wednesday night. Good thing too, because as they were shooting 33 percent in the first half, missing 16 of their final 18 shots, they would have been behind by 20 or 30 had they also been turning the ball over. Chris Paul obviously helps there, and he was essentially flawless tonight -- nine assists and zero turnovers in 25 minutes.
- The Clippers half court defense was pretty good all night, but their transition defense was terrible in the first half. Once they tightened that up, the Jazz had difficulty scoring (it helps your transition defense to make shots of course, so the other team is taking the ball out of the net rather than running out on long rebounds). The second unit, with Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes harassing ball-handlers and Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf protecting the rim, was very solid in the fourth quarter.
- Hollins and Turiaf had easily their best games as Clippers so far. It's possible that neither of them will be in the first 10 rotation during the regular season, but with Grant Hill and Lamar Odom getting the night off, they were out there tonight and they made the most of it. Hollins had four offensive rebounds and five blocked shots in just 20 minutes, including one of each in the final seconds to help preserve the victory. His rebound of Barnes' missed three with 12 seconds left gave the Clippers one more possession with a single point lead. Then, after Jamal Crawford's free throw stretched the lead to two, Hollins' block of Randy Foye's layup helped the Clippers avoid overtime. Turiaf blocked two shots to go with Hollins' five blocks.
- DeAndre Jordan was a beast on the boards with 16 in 28 minutes. He didn't have the offensive game he's been having (he was just 3-9, getting several shots blocked or altered by the active Utah defense), but he was still a force. He went to the line an incredible 14 times (he was only credited with 13 because of a basket interference call against Griffin on one of them) which speaks to his activity. Unfortunately, the adventure continued once he got there, as he made just 5 of his 13 official attempts. Now, if you're looking for any positive signs, I suppose it's worth noting that he was 1 for 8 at one point and made four of his last five; but it's clearly a work in progress.
- Jamal Crawford was the Clippers offense down the stretch, and while he won't be out there without Paul and Griffin at the end of regular season games, it's still nice to have another guy who can close. His three point play with 41 seconds left in a tie game was essentially the game-winner, and it was just plain mean to boot. He left DeMarre Carroll reaching for smoke at the free throw line. It's also nice, on a team with so many bad free throw shooters, to have a guy who is essentially automatic (though he did miss a big one with 10 seconds left, his first miss of the preseason).
- Eric Bledsoe was in attack mode in the fourth quarter, and he's clearly best when he's in attack mode. His four turnovers were too many, and I can think of two which were just careless, so he needs to continue to clean that up. But throughout the fourth he was attacking the Jazz defense, splitting the double team on the pick and roll, and getting into the lane to cause havoc. He probably should have had more assists if his teammates had done a slightly better job finishing. But as the fourth quarter began, I was wondering where the offense would come from for the second unit, and Bledsoe and Crawford were more than sufficient at creating opportunities. That unit scored 28 points in the fourth quarter, which is obviously very good.
- One note of caution, and this could certainly be an issue for the Clippers this season -- the team made just 2-10 three point shots. The Jazz, one of the worst three point shooting teams in the league last season, were 8-18 -- newcomer Foye torching his former Clipper mates for 4-8 threes on his way to a team-high 17 points. Chauncey Billups will certainly help with the three point shooting, but on paper this team does not have as many shooters this year, and that could prove costly in some games. It's not easy to get outscored by 18 from deep and still win.
All in all, a fine preseason game for the Clippers. Ten players logged between 19 and 29 minutes, and the team overcame a sluggish start to find their competitive spirit and come back to win. It's just preseason as we keep saying, but it's almost impossible to simulate last second situations in practice, so these are great opportunities to see how the team responds to that pressure. Wednesday night, they were up to the task.