You're justified to ask why I didn't go with "Blake Bitch-Slaps Suns" as the headline. Accurate as it may be, it just seemed crass, and if it turns out Blake really did act the jerk in Las Vegas, it could prove cringeworthy. It's too bad, because I've had it teed up since noon, just begging for a Clipper victory and a dominating Blake performance.
This was a game of two contrasting halves, the second half as torpid and disjointed as the first was inspired. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both came fully engaged, and as the clear best players in either uniform, they were the driving factors in a closely-contested victory. Rivers rode his two horses for more than a combined 77 minutes, which this writer thinks is crazy for a meaningless game. There's no second-guessing their play, however, as both stars each surpassed 30 points on better than 50% shooting.
The key play in the final minute was a bunny of a layup that Spencer Hawes airballed, then caught and put back in himself. Sure, it was a violation and should have been called as such, but hey, preseason. (Shrugging). Chris Paul put the game on ice with a driving banker with 7.8 seconds remaining. The Suns contributed to the game's 73 free throws (!) by intentionally fouling Paul to extend a meaningless game.
Largely though, the Clippers sleepwalked (sleptwalked?) through another one, particularly on defense. They've sleepwalked so much this preseason that typing "sleepwalked" feels hacky and derivative. I do think it's just a general "this game is meaningless" malaise, because the team looked sharp offensively. In fact, both teams looked sharp early, showing consistent ball movement, energy in transition, and accurate outside shooting. Sharp offense plus disinterested defense is a rare formula for a preseason game. The first half was more like the All-Star game.
To reiterate, Chris and Blake didn't sleepwalk. Chris looked angry, and angry Chris is good Chris. And I don't think Blake even knows the difference between preseason, regular season, postseason, pick-up, pop-a-shot, etc. Blake just waits in his cage until game time. When Doc lets him out, he hops around panting, "Game?! Game?!" If he were a hair dryer, his switch would just say OFF and MAX POWER.
Their superlative play may have been enough to make some casual viewers confuse this game with a regular season one. Luckily, I've prepared this handy little guide to help you recognize a game that does not count:
- Chris Paul only uses screens to find space to shoot. Preseason is like a full moon — it turns him into a WereBrandonJennings. Why should he waste precious energy driving the lane? To create for others? Ha! Save those dribbles for the games that matter, Chris.
- All five on-court Clippers facing the same direction on defense: the wrong one. Strangely, even as some Sun dribbled toward the basket, those stoic Clippers refused to budge. I call that strategy "The Queen's Guards". It looked like a soccer formation.
- Someone violates the 8-second rule. This is the rule that says you must bring the ball from the backcourt into the frontcourt within 8 seconds. This never gets called! Wait, it does?
- The commentators are discussing Chris Douglas-Roberts's shorts... in the 1st quarter. If this were a real game, this kind of talk would only be acceptable in the 4th quarter of a blowout. Here in the preseason, when a player can be listed in the box score as DNP MEH, it's manna for commentators starving for some kind of storyline. Side note: CDR, if you think you need shorter shorts to be a good defender, you may not be a good defender. Side side note: CDR, if you want to wear short shorts, don't wear long compression shorts under them.
- Jeff Van Gundy, playing sideline reporter because ESPN didn't even bother to send a real sideline reporter, asking Phoenix head coach Jeff Hornacek if any of his players could beat him in a shooting contest. $10 to any sideline reporter with the plums to ask Popovich this. That might get the first Pop no-word answer.
- Mark Jackson had his turn at sideline reporter with Doc Rivers after the 3rd quarter. Ever gracious, Mark thanked Doc for making him a sideline reporter. You're a class act, Mark. Fortunately for this post, I am not.
- You learn new rules. I didn't know this, but starting this season, if the defense forces a held ball with fewer than 5 seconds on the shot clock, the shot clock will not be reset to 5 seconds. That's a nice change to reward good defense. Shamefully, I'm not even sure I knew about the old rule.
Some (mostly serious) things I noticed:
- With Spencer Hawes replacing DeAndre Jordan in the starting lineup, the Clippers could legitimately play 4-out, with Blake the only player inside the 3-point line. This didn't just give Blake space to play, it gave him Oklahoma.
- More on Hawes: I was curious to see if Doc would ask the ham-footed Hawes to aggressively hedge on screens like Blake and DeAndre. Nope, not at least in the few pick and rolls I saw the Suns run at Spencer. He dropped back into the lane more conservatively, where he can stay in front of the ballhandler and use his size to dissuade inside shots.
- Still more on Hawes: He doesn't have the quickest shot release, so defenders can and do close on his 3-point attempts quickly. Fine, no problem. Hawes seems willing to pump fake and drive into the lane, something at which he is surprisingly adept considering he's a 7-foot center on the Hasheem Thabeet side of the fluidity scale. However, when he kicks out to a shooter from his drive, he winds up like a baseball pitcher from the 1920s. Those passes aren't telegraphed, they're called in a week ahead with a reservation. Smart defenders will see this on tape, tuck their napkins into their collars, and prepare themselves to feast.
- This is a fun formation. I know of the Horns set and the Floppy set, so I guess I'll call this the Spectator set. I thought it was more preseason apathy until I saw it called for a second time. Surprisingly, the 3-man weakside bunch didn't scatter until after the strongside shot went up. I'm curious to see variations on this theme throughout this season.
- I'm bearish on CDR's potential as a defensive force, and I seem to be in the Clips Nation minority. He's long and he's bouncy, but if that's all you need to be a stopper, Tigger would be All-NBA. (Pooh would be a bad defender — he's always caught reaching.) CDR doesn't stay low enough, and it's tough to move laterally quickly when your center of balance is so high. Perhaps this is just a preseason malady, but for a guy fighting for a roster spot, I assume he's showing us everything he's got.