It's unwise to get too pumped up about the results of a summer league game, but if one were inclined to do such a thing, one might get a tad excited about the Los Angeles Clippers after their performance in Salt Lake City on Saturday night against the Utah Jazz. The Clippers clearly have one of the more talented rosters in the league and the Jazz clearly exist at the other end of that spectrum, but this was not a contest at any point.
The Clippers, again playing without J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock, got a surprise start from Blake Griffin despite the bone bruise he suffered on Wednesday and went with their regular starting lineup with the reliable Willie Green stepping in for Redick. That starting group, with Chris Paul, Jared Dudley and DeAndre Jordan joining Griffin and Green, only played about half the game -- a little less for Griffin who tweaked his right ankle just moments into the game but returned after getting the ankle retaped -- but compiled some gaudy numbers in the process. Paul had 10 assists, six points and six rebounds and put up a plus/minus of +26 in less than 24 minutes and never really looked like he was working particularly hard on offense.
In fact, that may be the thing that was most impressive about this performance. The Clippers smothered the Jazz with their defense, holding Utah to 36 percent shooting for the game, and below 30 percent in the first half when things were marginally more serious -- while on offense they seemed to be in cruise control. Don't get me wrong, it was a very effective cruise control, yielding 106 points on 55 percent shooting, 61 effective field goal percentage taking into account the 11 three pointers they made, but it all came easily and with a certain nonchalance. One assumes the team will have another gear when they need it, but they didn't need it tonight. Simply by running their sets efficiently they got plenty of wide open shots.
There's not much point in dwelling on the game given that the Jazz weren't capable of putting up a lot of resistance, but there were a few individual performances worth noting:
- After going for 16 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots in 21 minutes in Portland on Monday, DeAndre Jordan followed up with 14 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots (all in the first half) in 22 minutes in Utah. That's 10 blocked shots in 43 minutes this pre-season, but you know what has impressed me? His 6-8 shooting from the free throw line in so far. It's an incredibly small sample size of course, but he just looks worlds different at the line. I don't know if it's Doc Rivers instilling confidence or continued work with Bob Thate or what, but DJ is stepping to the line, taking a rhythm dribble and shooting his foul shot without ever entering his own head -- which is clearly where he gets into trouble. Even his two misses in the pre-season looked good. It's early but it's very encouraging.
- In a similar vein, Blake Griffin is shooting open perimeter jump shots without overthinking things. They weren't falling in Portland, but he made 3-7 from 18 feet and out tonight, which combined with his 3-3 in the paint gave him a solid 6-10 evening. It remains to be seen if the Clippers offense can consistently generate a better shot than a Griffin 18 footer -- but it's pretty obvious that they can get that shot any time they want to.
- Speaking of which, after hitting just 1-7 from beyond the three point line on Monday, Byron Mullens hit 3-7 in this one, including his first two, and he also drew a foul shooting a three. After Monday's game I mused aloud as to whether Rivers and the Clippers coaching staff feel like that's a good shot, and we got some insight into that during the broadcast when Mike Smith said that Rivers has told Mullens in no uncertain terms that he wants him to keep shooting that shot. Seven threes per game in limited minutes still seems excessive -- but he only needs to hit around 35 percent from out there to make it a worthwhile exercise. Besides, where better than pre-season to get up some shots? He can always dial it back in the regular season if need be, but hopefully he'll make enough to force defenses to react. Mullens led the team in scoring with 15 on the evening.
Midway through the third quarter, with the Clippers ahead 68-41, Rivers removed his starters for the final time and used the final 17 minutes or so as an extended look at the likes of Maalik Wayns, Brandon Davies and Lou Amundson. (I'm not convinced that any of the three unguaranteed Clippers deserves a roster spot, though Davies did surprisingly make three threes tonight.) Doc didn't even bother to play Jamal Crawford in the second half -- Crawford's a known quantity and a veteran who will be ready when the season starts. (There was a fun moment as Crawford was set to check in when Doc changed his mind, called timeout, and told Jamal that he was going with Wayns instead -- Jamal and Doc are both gregarious personalities and Jamal feigned disappointment as Doc teased him about being benched.)
This team is loaded on paper, and that came across in spades tonight -- even with two of their top eight players missing the game. Utah in mid-October is a far cry from a real test, but patsy or not, the Clippers could hardly have looked much better tonight.