The Clippers Zhiv Hard: What Was That?

Jeff Gross

The Doc Rivers era in Clipperland began with a whimper, not a bang. What are we to make of this funky turn of events? And where would the Clippers be without Byron Mullens?

Umm, really? That was the grand opening of the Doc Rivers era? Maybe the Clips were in a funk because they were on the road and the Laker jerseys and banners were freaking them out, just as the spirit of the Logo was infused into the Laker scrubs. The Clippers now need to see giant photos of themselves on the walls in order to play well in Staples Center. Jordan Hill was inspired, his play was worthy of Rudy LaRusso, Happy Hairston and Mark Landsberger! That Griffin kid, he's just a bum, a slacker, a veritable Beasley, making commercials and we know what he wasn't doing, he clearly didn't work on his post moves all summer.

Yeah Reggie, that's right. Blake Griffin didn't work on his post moves, not once all summer long. The ease with which he scored in the post in his little run in the 2nd and 3rd just, you know, happens, it's natural talent. Blake Griffin played a funky game last night. You could easily say that he didn't work on his free throws either. But we know that he works hard, like all of the top players in the league do now these days, and then he works some more. That's not it.

The big problems with the Clippers last night are ones that we've seen before, many times, as fans of the beleaguered franchise. They were banged up in training camp. They're instituting a new system. They have a bunch of new players. It's a combination of those three things. Training camp and preseason injuries were once the norm for the Clippers, and the relative health of the squad in that stretch during the VDN era was an aberration and made us somewhat complacent.

Matt Barnes is a key player for the Clippers and he made an absolutely crucial contribution to the team's success last year. He was hungry just to sign onto the roster, he was in phenomenal shape and injury free and he started out as the third string SF. He had minor injuries during the season (that thing with his finger, or whatever it was--it looked like it really hurt when he'd ding it, but he would just keep playing), but he was running and hustling and playing like a banshee all year. This time around he didn't practice at all through the entire training camp and preseason. People are talking about Dudley being slow and out of shape, but Dudley is who he is and hasn't had any setbacks, and he was never a physical specimen. He's a glue guy who knocks down shots. But the big missing piece of glue for the Clippers, aside from Blake Griffin's beast mojo, is the athleticism and intensity of Matt Barnes. He played like a guy who needs court time, who needs to get into better shape and figure out the flow. That's what happens when guys miss training camp. It has happened over and over again in Clipper annals, with Marcus Camby, with Baron Davis, just to name a couple of guys.

Redick looked sharp and great--and then he didn't. The same thing: that's what happens when you miss a big chunk of the preseason. He needs to get more court time before he's just as lethal in the 3rd and 4th quarter as he was in the first half. But Redick and his game last night presents a larger, more complicated issue: how things should work with him, Jamal Crawford, and the other Clipper options at wing and guard.

Jamal Crawford was just as huge a contributor to last season's success as Barnes. He was flashier, scoring in big fat bunches and making ridiculous plays and shots, and he competed hard for 6th Man of the Year. Crawford started slowly in preseason, but then put up a couple of typical jaw-dropping Jamal Crawford games, and my thought was how can you not love this guy, he's phenomenal, he's got to be on the Clippers. And I believe that's true, at least for the time being. He just has to be used judiciously. Willie Green is sitting there, not doing anything until he's doing everything, all of a sudden, and it's hard to say what that means. Green might have been just what the Doctor ordered last night, except he wasn't. (Is that a new category, along the lines of "Where would the Clippers be without..."?)

Where would the Clippers be without Byron Mullens? What a head-scratcher: we're surprised that he didn't play last night, and we are supposed to be really happy about that, except maybe, just maybe, Mulligan was... just was the Doctor (should have) ordered last night? Nah. Not possible. Wasn't it a great thing that he wasn't in the rotation last night? It wasn't? So confused!

Ryho! Mediocrio! Or worse than that. How great was it to see Kaman miss that one-footer last night? Just klassic. He was going good, he helped the Lakers stay with the Clips in the first half, hit a couple of shots, was playing a nice, workmanlike Kamangame. But something was missing. The Lakers were competing, rolling along nicely. And then, there it was--the patented one-foot miss! I really like Ryan Hollins and I was happy to see him in front of Mullens on the depth chart, I really was. But Hollins makes Kaman look like a fantastic finisher around the basket. His ability to be at the rim and get his shot blocked, or find some way not to finish, seems uncanny at this point. It was quietly disastrous against Memphis, it bugs me, and it was horrendous last night. And that's not even mentioning his anemic rebounding: his rebounding is weak, we get it, and it's almost always described as anemic. Whatever. The big anemia rebounding question pertains to Blake Griffin.

Mike D'Antoni outcoached Doc Rivers. He got to play a pure D'Antoni-style game. The benefits of knowing his roster, having a complete training camp with them and instituting his system were wildly evident, everywhere you look, and a sharp contrast to a painful, messy birth for Rivers. D'Antoni must have enjoyed not having to cater to his uber-voracious sidelined star, and enjoyed supporting his easygoing, uber-skilled one, the Spaniard. Nash-Gasol pick and roll with shooters helped the Lakers stay in it, Kaman contributed, and then the Lakers turned into a Euro-style juggernaut with Steve Blake, Henry, Meeks, Johnson and the rest doing their best Old School D'Antoni impression, hustle, run and shoot. It's not going to last, and the Lakers-GSW game should be interesting, but it was amusing. It was so un-Laker, for one thing, but that's what they've got for now. In the whole buildup of Rivers taking over it must have been said 10,000 times that the biggest thing a coach can do is give his players confidence, and somehow the Laker scrubs had confidence that a few of them had never known before, certainly not in the NBA. That has always been a unique talent of the Clippers, bringing out amazing performances from obscure players (Dan Dickau shoutout!), but I don't remember seeing it happen for multiple guys at the same time.

And in case people might be wondering how the word with no meaning, zhiv, can be defined, that game last night by the Clippers was a great example. That was a zhiv. They didn't know who they were, or what they were doing, they lost the thread and had to make it up. Why try? Move on, nothing to see here, stumble forward and bump into the next. Sometimes it's not your night.

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