Let's make one thing clear right from the outset: that was a good win. We said in the preview that the Los Angeles Clippers, now that they are a marquee team and a front runner, are going to get the best shot of every opponent. The Sacramento Kings gave them all they wanted tonight, gave them a real battle -- and the Clippers faced down a bit of adversity and came out on top on the road.
It helps to have Chris Paul.
Sacramento led once after the midpoint of the first quarter, when Jason Thompson's dunk made the score 92-90 Sacramento about halfway through the third quarter. Moments later, Paul hit a bail out three as the shot clock was about to expire, and the Clippers never trailed again, closing the game on a 20-9 run.
I want to say something about officiating. We all know that NBA officials can have a tremendous impact on games. In this one, after the Kings had fallen behind by 15 points in the third quarter, the whistles were a huge part of their comeback. The Kings took 18 free throws in the third quarter compared to two for the Clippers. I'm not saying the calls were necessarily bad -- let's face it, Ryan Hollins is a fouling machine, and when DeAndre Jordan picked up his fourth and had to go to the bench, Hollins paved a path for the Kings to the line. I am saying that -- for a time at least -- all the close calls went Sacramento's way.
- Flagrant foul called on Matt Barnes? Are you kidding? I guarantee you it will be overturned by the league. A truly stupid call.
- Charge/block that went against Griffin seconds later? Probably the right call, but close, and no surprise it went to the home team.
- Paul fouling Isaiah Thomas on a three pointer seconds after that? Very, very weak call. Paul is required to allow Thomas to land, yes -- but not when Thomas jumps forward. If you watch the replay, Thomas clearly invaded Paul's space more than Paul invaded Thomas'.
Having said that, the old cliche is that these things have a way of evening out, and the officials gave the Clippers some favorable calls when the game was on the line in the fourth.
- Taunting technical on DeMarcus Cousins after he blocked Paul's shot? Weak. It was probably the correct call -- I would have liked to see a different angle replay, but Prime did not show one -- but it is also something that the official could easily overlook. Watching the play again from the original angle, Cousins clearly says something directly to Paul after the block, with the referee standing right there. It all depends on what he said, but I have a feeling it was a pretty easy call actually.
- The replay review that awarded the ball to the Clippers with 92 seconds left and the Clippers clinging to a three point lead? HUGE call. I think they got it right, but it was far from obvious, and in the end I am surprised that the overturned it.
It's been a busy couple of days in Clips Nation, and I'm not sure I have a coherent theme in me tonight, so I'm going to take the easy way out and go straight to the bullet points:
- A very solid game for Blake Griffin: I've been harping about his rebounding, and he went out and got 17, including 14 on the defensive glass which is where he often struggles. He did not have 17 rebounds in any game last season. Add in his 20 points, and this is the 24th 20-15 game in his career. He also pulled defensive duty on Cousins after the Hollins debacle and held his own. So let's see, rebounding -- check; defense -- check; what else does he need to work on? How about 8-8 from the line, the most free throws he's ever made without a single miss in an NBA game.
- Sample sizes remain tiny, but in a contest where there are no good answers, I remain firmly in the Mullens-over-Hollins camp. Hollins was a complete disaster in this game: three turnovers, five fouls and only one rebound in eight minutes, which reinforces my impression of the guy (not to mention his career stats) -- hands of stone, can't defend without fouling, terrible rebounder. He did have a block on DMC. Yay! Mullens was only a partial disaster. He made one of his three pointers, leaving him 1-7 on the season; he committed four fouls in 15 minutes; he looked flat out stupid as Jason Thompson drove around him. Look, there's no good answer here -- but Mullens is 24 and could conceivably improve some. In my opinion he's the the better option now (though that's debatable); he's certainly the only option that has any upside. But yeah, bigs off the bench remains a big problem.
- The wing rotation is going to be a very interesting question this season. On a night where Jamal Crawford had it going big time -- 7-10 shooting, 3-5 from deep, and he absolutely saved the Clippers with a couple of timely shots -- he played only 22 minutes to 24 for Jared Dudley and 28 for J.J. Redick. It's a good problem to have, and all-in-all those guys will likely split the available minutes pretty evenly this season, but this felt like a game where Crawford need some more time and he didn't get it. I think -- I mean I think, I'm not at all certain about this -- that Doc likes Redick and Dudley out there with CP3, almost like he thinks Crawford's ability to create shots is redundant with Paul on the floor. And since he needs Paul out there, it takes minutes away from JCrossover. Something to watch. But to reiterate, Crawford was absolutely great -- 18 points in 22 minutes.
- Matt Barnes looked a bit like Matt Barnes for the first time this season -- 10 points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals -- and it was much needed. He has two flagrant fouls in three games -- at least until the league rescinds the one from this game.
- Darren Collison has yet to get going, but any parent out there knows pretty much why. Collison, who became a first time father on Monday, will be fine when he starts to get a little sleep, or more to the point, when he gets used to not having any.
- Isaiah Thomas was completely ridiculous for the Kings. He finished with 29 points on 9-13 shooting, making all three of his three pointers. It's not the first time that's he's exploded on the Clippers -- another in a long line of obscure players who seem to love to play the LAC.
- The Kings had one play that they ran a couple of times that worked incredibly well. What they do is, they lose control of the ball and dare the Clippers to go after it. Then they dive and hope they come up with the ball first, and then shoot an open three pointer in the resulting confusion. They ran it twice and it resulted in six points. Brilliant.
- On the other hand, it's a young team, and not once but twice they came out of a time-out in a big situation in the fourth quarter and got absolutely nothing. Down by three, they came out of a time out with seemingly no clue what they were running, and eventually had Cousins take a double-pump three pointer -- which failed to hit the rim, resulting in a shot clock violation. Later, down five with 80 seconds left and facing pretty much their final chance, they came out of a time out and turned the ball over again. Ouch.
- Sacramento coach Mike Malone, an assistant in Golden State last season where they employed the hack strategy many times, intentionally fouled Jordan twice in the second quarter. DJ missed both free throws the first time -- and then swished both the second time. He also swished two in the fourth quarter. That is a HUGE confidence boost for Jordan.
The Clippers are now 2-1 on the season, which is not a bad place to be. They're still finding their way in Doc Rivers' offense and defense, and figure to get better as the season moves on. The schedule doesn't do them any favors -- seven of their next ten games are against playoff teams from a season ago, with two games against the very solid Minnesota Timberwolves tossed in for good measure -- but they seem to be finding their way.