Welp, that didn't exactly go as planned. The Clippers were supposed to be the contender from Los Angeles. They were certain supposed to be the team with the deep bench. But instead it was five Laker reserves who absolutely crushed the Clippers -- to the tune of 41 points! -- in the fourth quarter as the Lakers ran away with the first game of the season.
There are a few things you just look at and say, "Oh well, that was weird" and figure it's not likely to happen again. And there are a few that are genuinely troublesome.
Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill are not going to play like that collectively ever again for as long as they live. If they were capable of playing like that, they'd make more than $8M -- combined. The entire Lakers lineup for the fourth quarter makes less than half of what Chris Paul makes in a season -- makes less than three of the Clippers starters. Makes about a quarter of what Kobe Bryant makes by himself. But on this night they did whatever they wanted.
The final quarter began with the Clippers leading by four -- a lead that really should have been more, had not the Clippers missed a bunch of easy shots and given the Lakers way too many rebounds. But after Wesley Johnson missed a layup to start the fourth, the Lakers proceeded to score on 14 consecutive possessions. That's bad -- but it gets worse. On half of those 14 possessions, the Lakers actually missed their first attempt -- but got the offensive rebound. That worse -- but it gets worse still. Five of the 14 possessions yield three points, as did the next two possessions after a Lakers turnover. Altogether, counting the empty possession to start the quarter, the Lakers scored 39 points on 18 possessions.
I feel a little like Vincent Vega when Mia Wallace ordered a five dollar shake (in 1997):
Did you just order a five dollar milk shake? That's a shake. That's milk and ice cream. And that's five dollars? You don't put bourbon in it or nuthin'? Just checkin'.
Did the Lakers bench just score 41 points in a quarter? That's the Lakers bench. That's Farmar, Meeks, Henry, Johnson and Hill. And that's 41 points? They didn't put Kobe in or nuthin'? Just checkin'.
OK, deep cleansing breath.
So what is the takeaway from this? Is it that Xavier Henry is destined to be a first ballot Hall of Famer even though he couldn't crack the rotation in Memphis or New Orleans? Not so much. Let's try to distinguish between the real problems (if there are any) and the fluke occurences (of which there were certainly a few -- after all, the Lakers string of consecutive scores included a banked in 15 footer from straightaway by Hill, so sometimes things are just bouncing your way).
Doc Rivers is preaching defense, and the Lakers scored 116 points, so that's inauspicious (yes, let's go with inauspicious).
Specifically, Rivers is preaching transition defense and three point defense, two areas where the Clippers were not great last year, and the Lakers scored quickly, and they made 14 of 29 threes, so that's -- what's another word for inauspicious?
Still, I've always said that we don't accept the randomness of this game as much as we should, and the Lakers clearly shot the lights out from three, regardless of the Clippers defense.
I've been harping on Blake Griffin's declining rebounding numbers -- and he had seven in 40 minutes tonight. Compare that to the guys he was matched up against (to be fair, DeAndre Jordan factors in as well): Hill had seven OFFENSIVE rebounds in 18 minutes and Chris Kaman had four offensive boards in 18 minutes. Essentially, if the Lakers missed, it was more likely that Griffin's gold-clad counterpart was going to get the rebound than that Griffin would, and that's not acceptable (nor is it random). Overall, the Lakers enjoyed a 12 rebound edge for the game, including eight extra offensive boards.
Considering that in the first real game Rivers went almost exclusively with an eight man rotation, playing small ball when either Griffin or Jordan rested, it is a disaster if Griffin doesn't rebound better. If you're going to restrict your rotation to two bigs, they both have to rebound like bigs. Griffin seems more and more like a small forward when it comes to the glass -- and that is going to be a huge problem if it continues.
Lots of other things went wrong for the Clippers, particularly the fact that Paul had an off shooting night. If Farmar outscores CP3 while playing nine fewer minutes, something somewhere has clearly gone awry. J.J. Redick looked great as he made five of his first six shots -- and then he missed six straight. Griffin followed up his 80% playoff performance from the line by missing seven of his first eight free throws. (Seriously, if Griffin is hitting those free throws it's a double digit lead in the third and the Lakers don't have the same level of confidence heading into the fourth.) The Clippers were even whistled for two flagrant fouls. It was not fun.
DeAndre Jordan, who had 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots in 36 minutes was a bright spot for the Clippers -- and he was pretty much the only one.
Here's what I'm hoping. We all know that the NBA season is really, really long. I'm hoping that at the end of it, we look back on this game as a distant memory and say "Wow, that was easily the worst game of the season." If you think of that way, it's good news right? If it turns out to be the case, then this is the low point, and it all gets better from here.
At the very least, the team should be pretty damn attentive in practice tomorrow. If they had been looking at all the "Western Conference Champion" predictions and starting to get a bit arrogant, that really shouldn't be a problem anymore.