What was mostly a timid affair for the better part of three quarters turned into a physical, tough, and downright fun game to watch on Friday night in Los Angeles. The 4-0 Utah Jazz waltzed into the Staples Center, one night after vanquishing the Los Angeles Lakers in Anaheim, and found the 0-3 Los Angeles Clippers waiting for them. After 48 minutes of basketball, the Clippers prevailed with a victory and — for now — seem to have righted the ship a little bit.
Let's get the result out of the way right now before we talk about what else happened in this game. The Clippers won, 101-97, and, although they had moments where they didn't look overly sharp, prevailed against a scrappy team that has looked good all preseason. It took a Jamal Crawford three with 18 seconds to go to finally put the Clippers in front for good. It was effectively iced with a Spencer Hawes dunk with 4 seconds to go. It was fitting that those two guys had the final two baskets tonight in the win. They were huge all night.
Now let's talk about the interesting parts of this game. With just under three minutes to go in the third quarter, Blake Griffin was rising up for a fastbreak dunk after Chris Douglas-Roberts hit him in transition. Trevor Booker went up to contest the dunk and kind of hit Blake Griffin in the face while still going for the ball. What ensued afterwards was a fracas that saw Blake Griffin grab Trevor Booker by the back of the head and actually cock back to throw a punch before getting grabbed and ushered away by Spencer Hawes.
Trevor Booker and Blake Griffin incident — GIF courtesy of @cjzero
The result of that play was a Flagrant One and technical foul against Trevor Booker, a technical foul against Blake Griffin, and a technical foul against Chris Paul. After that, the game got a tad chippy. Both teams were unwilling to give an inch and it did spark the Clippers a little bit. The Clippers closed the third quarter on a 14-7 run and took a 75-74 lead into the third quarter.
Fourth quarter was full of fireworks that saw the Clippers nail some big shots down the stretch. Trailing by three with 90 seconds to go, Jamal Crawford hit a three to tie the game up. Down by two with 45 seconds left, Chris Paul hit a three to put the Clippers up by one. And then tied with 18 seconds to go, Jamal Crawford hit a three to put the Clippers up for good. That play was setup by Chris Paul splitting a pick-and-roll, kicking out to Spencer Hawes in the corner, who then kicked to Jamal Crawford on the wing for the three. It was beautiful on all fronts and showcased what the Clippers can do when working as a cohesive unit.
Speaking of cohesive units, the Clippers defense showed up tonight in holding Utah to a pedestrian 44.1% shooting mark from the field and 6-of-18 from three-point land. The communication, rotations, and trust was evident tonight from nearly every player on the Clippers roster who played. While there were some lapses, which are bound to happen, they never let it get them too down. They constantly stuck together and worked through it. It was the best defensive effort of the entire preseason. In fact, Utah only had one quarter where they scored over 25 points (third quarter; 27). Usually when you hold teams to under 100 points, you tend to win more games than you lose.
However, this game wasn't without some faults. The Clippers turned the ball 20 times which led to 24 points for the Utah Jazz. So, while the Clippers defense was great in half-court sets, the offense didn't do them any favors from time to time by turning the ball over so much. In the second quarter alone, the Clippers had ten turnovers which led to ten Utah points. In the fourth quarter, despite their lackluster shooting, the Clippers only turned the ball over once. And they only had six total turnovers in the second half. So they did improve as the game went along. Another encouraging sign.
Another one of the faults was free throws. Both for and against. Utah went to the line 36 times tonight and made 29 of them. The Clippers, on the other hand, shot 27 free throws but only made 16. Utah went +13 from the free throw line and it's a little surprising that with the turnovers and free throw disparity that the Clippers wound up pulling this one out. Credit Spencer Hawes, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, and Chris Paul (late) for the win.
Clippers bench players not named Spencer or Jamal shot 0-of-8 from the field and contributed nothing. Zilch. Ekpe Udoh was lackluster in two minutes of action and looked extremely rusty. Jordan Farmar looked okay, even though his shot wasn't falling, and managed to nab two offensive rebounds on one possession. Matt Barnes just did not look good. He took some massively ill-advised shots and got beat baseline one time by Rodney Hood after a crossover. Barnes just looks bad right now.
But then there was Spencer Hawes and Jamal Crawford. The Seattle Sidekicks. They combined for 49 points — 25 for Jamal and 24 for Spencer — on 28 shots. Let's just be honest. Anytime your bench, as a whole, is putting out that kind of production, it was a good night for them. However, these two guys are an entire bench mob unto themselves. They seem to have a chemistry together. Jamal, as he has been all preseason, was fantastic offensively. He seems to be at ease knowing the bench burden isn't all on his shoulders. He finally has help there. And he's flourishing. Hawes actually dunked multiple times, hit threes, and hit a hook shot off of a quick post move. The signs are there for success.
Blake Griffin compiled 17 points and hit jumpers like he has during the preseason but he was not good from the charity stripe, going just 3-of-9 there. And while he only did have four rebounds, he did showcase some good boxing out skills especially when matched up against Enes Kanter and Rudy Gobert — part of the reason those guys only combined for 10 rebounds. Blake Griffin also had a thunderous dunk that made Rudy Gobert move out of the way for fear of ending up on a poster.
DeAndre Jordan did DeAndre Jordan and piled up 17 rebounds to go with 9 points and a surprising four assists. He only had one block tonight but altered quite a few shots that were thrown up in his direction. Even his contests on mid-range jumpers by Derrick Favors looked good. DeAndre seems to be understanding defensive concepts a little more this year and actually realizing that his man can shoot jumpers. He's closing out on those guys more and making them take tougher shots. It's progress.
Speaking of progress, Chris Paul has had shaky shooting all preseason, but there was a point late in the game where he hit a three after a timeout was called, so therefore, obviously, it didn't count. After coming out of the timeout, Paul ended up nailing one that actually counted. He was also aggressive earlier in the game and really made the Utah defense collapse on him during pick-and-rolls which opened up more room for others to operate. It was nice to see an aggressive Chris Paul come out once in a while. Even though his shooting numbers (4-of-11) didn't bear it out, he had a solid overall game — 11 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 turnovers.
Chris Douglas-Roberts got the start tonight at small forward in the ever-fun small forward shell game for Doc Rivers. He finished with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, which included 2-of-3 from deep. I'll say this for Chris Douglas-Roberts; he seems to be meshing with the starters better by the possession. He's not the fastest, quickest, or best guy out there at small forward, but he seems to always kind of be in the right place at the right time. And I guess that's all this team needs at this point. He also competes on defense and seemed to do a solid job of ball-denying Hayward quite a few times.
J.J. Redick wasn't noteworthy tonight — 1-of-7 shooting, 0-of-3 from three — but his mere presence changes things. This isn't more evident than when he gets the ball coming off a down screen by DeAndre Jordan and the defense has to rush over the top, which leaves a free lane for DeAndre to roll into a lob. Redick just changes the way defenses help.
For Utah, they had Gordon Hayward finish with a team-high 22 points on 4-of-7 shooting thanks to 12-of-12 from the free throw line. Trey Burke also chipped in with 21 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. Derrick Favors had 19 points and 10 rebounds. In an odd choice, Dante Exum only got 6:22 of playing time in the second half after racking up 9 points and 2 assists in just over 10 minutes in the first half. Meanwhile, Ian Clark got 34 minutes of action instead. Seems odd considering Alec Burks was out tonight.
Next up for the Clippers, Las Vegas. They'll head there tonight and meet up to play the Denver Nuggets at the Mandalay Bay Events Center tomorrow night in what is yet another back-to-back for the Clippers in the preseason. No word yet on who will be starting at small forward tomorrow night but I'm starting to venture a guess that Chris Douglas-Roberts might be the guy to beat for the job on opening night. One thing is for certain, the Clippers definitely made some progress tonight from their first few games of the preseason. A win helped, but the process showed a lot more results.
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