In the absence of the injured Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers need four players in particular to play big. The Clippers have decent depth on the perimeter, and the addition of Hedo Turkoglu may yet make their front court reserves look less appalling, but while Paul is out, there really are four guys they're going to rely on. Those four -- Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford -- were all stellar in L.A.'s 112-103 win this afternoon in Detroit.
Griffin (25 points, five rebounds and five assists) did almost all of his damage in the first half, as the Clippers took a 64-53 lead. Redick started slow in a scoreless first quarter, but scored nine points in a two minute flurry that fueled a 21-3 second quarter run, putting L.A. firmly in control of the game. One of Redick's two four point plays on the day came during that run. Crawford had by far his best shooting game of the last month, hitting everything he put up in the type of performance the Clippers used to expect but have missed for awhile.
As for Jordan.... I've wondered to myself if he sees the hype surrounding a player like Andre Drummond of the Pistons and wonders to himself, "What the hell?" Jordan is the same athletic freak, the same ball of potential, with some of the same flaws. Whether a perceived rivalry drove him or not, there can be little question that Jordan outplayed Drummond in this game.
Drummond was good: 15 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, 5-6 from the field. Jordan was better: 16 points, 21 rebounds and four blocks, 8-11 from the field. Jordan had nine offensive rebounds to Drummond's eight defensive rebounds, which means that Jordan was just as likely to get rebounds on Clipper misses as Drummond was. Jordan's biggest flaw was the only thing that held him back today: he missed all six of his free throws or he very well might have had the first 20/20 game of his career.
The game got a little closer at the end than anyone expected. With 5:52 remaining, the Clippers led by 18 with Redick, the best free throw shooter in the NBA, headed to the line for a pair. Doc Rivers had gotten a resting Griffin off the bench once, but called him back thinking that the game was just about on ice. But instead of the almost certain 20 point lead, Redick missed both and the Pistons went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead in half.
However, it was too little too late. A Darren Collison to Jordan lob dunk ended the run, and Crawford made his third three of the game to settle matters once and for all.
As they've done so well in Paul's absence, the Clippers shared the ball incredibly well as a team. They recorded 27 assists on 40 made shots, with Redick (6), Collison (6), Griffin (5) and Crawford (4) all playing the distributor role at one time or another.
Turkoglu got his most extensive run of his time with the Clippers, and although he missed all four of his shots, the second unit looked undeniably good with him on the court. He was +10 in his 15 minutes, and can clearly still play the game a little. I've said it before: he may not have enough athleticism at this point and he may have lost his shot: only time will tell if those are showstoppers in his return to the NBA. But he's a smart, smart basketball player, a great passer, and positions himself well on defense. I'm beginning to see what Doc saw in him -- and that's without him making shots. Hopefully as he gets his game legs under him and gets back up to game speed he'll be even better.
All three of the Clippers who suffered minor injuries in Indiana played, and in a surprise move all three of them started, as Rivers went with Matt Barnes over Jared Dudley, presumably to put a longer defender on Josh Smith. Redick appeared none the worse for wear, despite his sore knee. Collison played 31 minutes and appeared to be moving well, but missed all five of his shots, though it's hard to say what effect his sprained big toe may have had. Barnes showed no ill-effects from his jammed thumb and scored 10 points in his first start of the season.
The Clippers are now 7-2 this season without Paul, with the two losses coming in almost unwinnable road games in San Antonio and Indianapolis. They are taking care of business in the games they can win and need to win, which is an incredibly good sign. If their new big four continues to play well, they're going to be that much better when they become a big five again.