The last game the Los Angeles Clippers won last season came in Game 7 of their playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies. The first win of this, the most anticipated season perhaps in Clipper history, came against the same foe. All evening the Clippers seemed to be able to respond when they needed to, most crucially in a 28-15 fourth quarter that left little doubt in the game. Free agent Jamal Crawford led all scorers with an impressive 29 points in 30 minutes. Crawford scored his 29 on a hyper efficient 14 shots.
Aside from two lulls where the team seemed to lose focus (a 19-3 run to end the first half followed by an 11-0 run late in the third) the Clippers were terrific. During the bad stretch at the end of the first half in particular, the Clippers simply turned the ball over way too much -- committing five turnovers in six trips at one point. And yes, the Grizzlies as a team force a lot of turnovers and win games by doing so, but for the most part these were simply sloppy plays by the L.A. offense, not great Memphis defense. The good news though is that aside from those turnovers, which seem completely correctable, there was a lot to like.
Chris Paul had a 12 point, 12 assist night, adding four steals and four rebounds for good measure. He was not the turnover problem, committing only two himself. As is frequently his custom, he laid low through three quarters, not forcing anything early. But with the game on the line in the fourth quarter he took over, scoring or assisting on the Clippers final 14 points. Eric Bledsoe was almost as good, scoring 13 points, handing out four assists and grabbing 4 rebounds in just 17 minutes.
Willie Green, the placeholder at shooting guard until Chauncey Billups returns, was good enough, making a couple of three pointers and working hard on defense, but it seems pretty obvious that Bledsoe needs more minutes at the shooting guard -- giving Green 29 minutes to Bledsoe's 17 makes no sense. Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro seems somehow hesitant to play Paul and Bledsoe together, but he did it in the fourth quarter with the game on the line, and he needs to embrace it earlier and more often. There's no way Green should be getting more burn than Bledsoe.
Lamar Odom, a huge source of concern for the Clippers and Clips Nation during the preseason, came out in the first game and showed a level of motivation that has to make everyone feel more comfortable. Consider this -- the entire season in Dallas last year, Lamar had one game in which he had more than one blocked shot (he had three once). Tonight, in 17 minutes, he blocked four shots, and almost had a couple more where he got the ball but was called for a foul. He was overanxious on his first couple of touches, throwing the ball away twice early, and he was not overly sharp offensively in general, but his defense (four blocks, solid post defense) and rebounding (six boards in 17 minutes) more than made up for it. There's still a long way to go, but if motivation was the big worry, Lamar did a lot tonight to allay those fears.
It was not Blake Griffin's best game (11 points, 7 rebounds, 4-10 shooting) but he had good energy and played good defense. The scoring will come for Griffin, so that's not really a concern, and every other Clipper in uniform tonight contributed. DeAndre Jordan (12 points, 7 rebounds), Caron Butler (10 points), Ronny Turiaf (two steals) and Ryan Hollins (three rebounds and a blocked shot) all had their moments; imagine how deep this team will be when they get three rotation players back!
It was a terrific start to the season for the Clippers. They have things they can do better, to be certain. They must take better care of the ball, and they really need to rebound better as well (Memphis won the rebounding battle 33-39). But it felt as if the Clippers were in control all night, even when things weren't necessarily going well. And when things were going well, well then it was a whole lot of fun.