Road wins normally don’t come easy. There are some down spots even in the games that you’re supposed to win. Tonight was one of those nights for the Los Angeles Clippers during a game that they were thoroughly in control of. There was a lull and the Sacramento Kings marched right back into it. It appeared that Los Angeles would lose another game they were controlling. Same old Clippers, right? Not so fast. The better team prevailed. And for good reason.
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For the first three quarters, the Clippers controlled the action despite Sacramento attempting to make run after run. The Clippers led by as much as 11 in the first quarter, by as much as 14 in the second quarter, and by as much as 12 in the third quarter. After the first 36 minutes, the team was up by 11 points and seemingly on their way to a victory that would buy their starters some rest before tomorrow night’s game. Except, well, that didn’t happen. Not at all. You see, the fourth quarter happened and it wasn’t exactly easy to digest in real time.
With the Clippers up by 13 points in the fourth quarter, the Kings went on a massive run that somehow swung the potential ending of this game. It all started with a Cousins dunk, was followed by a Belinelli three, a Collision three, a Casspi three, and then a Gay floater that gave the Kings the lead. It was a swift gashing by Sacramento that sent #ClippersTwitter into a frenzy and talking about how this was the same ol’ Clippers. Except, they weren’t. Why? Well, Paul Pierce is here now and he wants us to know that we can handle The Truth.
Pierce knocked in a huge three to give the Clippers the lead and that one shot seemed like it helped steady the Clippers entirely. While Rudy Gay hit another three with just under five minutes to go to retake the lead for Sacramento, the Clippers clawed back into it with tough defense and a J.J. Redick three. Then the trusty Pierce showed up again with his patented fadeaway jumper. And then the team defended again. Then #LobCity showed up. Then Paul hit his famed mid-range jumper. Lastly, the team iced the game at the line and finished with a 111-104 win.
An opening night win is great no matter the opponent or the adversity overcome. The team did get over some semblance of a hurdle tonight when it comes to adversity. The Kings simply wouldn’t die and the Clippers had to react to getting punched in the mouth with a right cross. Clippers picked themselves off the floor, dusted themselves off, and then proceeded to dagger the Kings right back. After that, Sacramento got all out of sorts and the Clippers closed the game out. That’s what good teams do. They face adversity and overcome it. Tonight was one of those moments in a long season where you’re happy to get out of a road venue with a win. Take it for what it is.
Things are always easier when you have the best power forward in basketball on your team, aren’t they? Blake Griffin set the tone in a game that appeared to be going all the Clippers’ way. He was magisterial in nearly all phases tonight. Griffin was dominant in the paint, dominant in the mid-range area, and dominant passing. The man was sensational and we need to better appreciate just how fantastic he happens to be. Appreciate the greatness. He’s one-of-a-kind. Griffin finished with 33 points on 14-of-20 shooting. He also had 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and made 5 of his 7 free throws. Praise be, Blake Griffin!
If you watched the game, it didn’t look like Chris Paul was having a vintage night. But then you look at his final stat line and you see that he finished with 18 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals while having just 2 turnovers. He also shot 6-of-14. Paul had his moments tonight when he turned it on and made life a living hell for starting point guard Rajon Rondo. So much so that Rondo was a nonfactor tonight and was thoroughly outplayed by backup Darren Collison. There will be nights that Paul isn’t sensational. Tonight he was good enough. On a night when Griffin was fantastic early on, Paul was the rudder who led them to the finish line with a key shot and free throws.
The other three starters had interesting games. J.J. Redick didn’t start well, but he finished with 15 points on 11 shots and made two threes. He wasn’t exactly looked for all that much early on, taking just 2 shots in the first quarter while Griffin was being force fed. Redick did show up when it mattered, though, by hitting that huge three late in the fourth and knocking down two pivotal free throws. He’s as steady as they come. 15 points on a 60.9 percent True Shooting Percentage is nothing to sneeze at.
During his first start with the team at small forward, Lance Stephenson chipped in with 7 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal on 3-of-5 from the field. The most redeeming part of the night was probably the opening sequence where Stephenson knocked down a three to start the game. It was almost like a weight was lifted off of his shoulders. He only played 19:08 tonight, but he was a +11 and routinely stifled Rudy Gay defensively. We didn’t see Lance get out of sorts tonight. He did what was required. That’s all you can ask of him to start. Stephenson looked quality tonight.
While he played just 27:06 due to foul trouble, DeAndre Jordan made a huge impact in this game. He finished with 8 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks on 4-of-6 shooting. The man was everywhere and was a huge part of the reason that Sacramento finished just 24-of-47 (51 percent) inside the paint. Los Angeles had an 88.6 Defensive Rating when he was on the court and he was altering shots and possessions routinely. It’s hard to express, but it’s just so great to have the big man back in the middle. This team needs him.
Where do you start with the bench, though? There were highs and lows. Among the highs, the defense from the bench wasn’t exactly poor. The Defensive Ratings of Paul Pierce and Josh Smith will say otherwise, but Smith’s would have been worse if he wasn’t swatting 4 shots tonight. While he only had one point, Smith chipped in with 6 rebounds. Pierce was a savior. He had 12 points and 7 rebounds on 4-of-8 shooting, including that huge three and massive turnaround over Rondo in the post.
Among the other parts of the bench, Jamal Crawford had 11 points on 9 shots, but he was inadequate on defense at times. Austin Rivers missed all three of his shots, but finished with 3 points and had 2 huge steals, one of which was with 90 seconds to go and the team only up by 2 points. Doc Rivers put his son into the game in a crucial part of the contest .. and it worked. Wesley Johnson played 10:36 and made his only three of the night. He also had a steal. Johnson appears to be the tenth man off the bench on nights like this, so 10 minutes might be the norm for him. But he looked comfortable.
As far as advanced numbers go, the team had an Offensive Rating of 108.1 tonight. J.J. Redick led the way, individually, with a 126.2 rating on offense. The team had a 96.4 Defensive Rating and Austin Rivers led all players with an 85.5 mark on that end. Jordan, as mentioned before, led all starters at 88.6. He also led all starters, and players, with a +28.3 Net Rating. All five starters finished with a True Shooting Percentage of 54 percent or higher, and three of them were at 60 percent or higher.
Unfortunately, there was some bad stuff. They only shot 6-of-19 from three, turned the ball over 15 times, went through massive amounts of dead time offensively where they couldn’t get anything going, and got beat on the offensive glass when Jordan was out of the game. A lot of offensive downfall had to do with the bench. On nights like this, Jamal Crawford helped because of his raw shot making ability. At the same time, it has to help Jamal to know that someone like Paul Pierce is with him on the bench. It alleviates some of the pressure. A win is a win, though. Bad moments of play or not, the team still came out on the right side of the result here.
For Sacramento, DeMarcus Cousins scored a team-high 32 points, had a team-high 13 rebounds, and went 4-of-5 from three. Sounds good, right? Except it wasn’t. During all of that, Cousins was routinely seen flipping out at the referees, turning the ball over a staggering 8 times, getting blocked 6 times, and committing 6 fouls – the last one which came in the final second of the game and appeared to hurt Austin Rivers a little bit. That last play aside, Cousins had a solid game that was probably marred by his lack of self-control. There’s no doubting the man’s talent. He just has a long way to go to being a leader.
As for the rest of their starters, Rudy Gay had 16 points on 16 shots. He was hounded by Lance Stephenson whenever the two were on the court together. Gay can still light it up at times and had his moments, but was mostly unseen for most of the night. Kosta Koufas had 10 points and 7 rebounds, as well as 2 blocks. You almost forget he played despite the numbers. Ben McLemore had 5 points on 5 shots. He still has some growing to do. Lastly, Rajon Rondo had 4 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal on 2-of-8 shooting. His only two made shots came on plays where Chris Paul left him wide open to double-team someone in the post and Rondo made a rim run where he got fed for a layup. Rondo was pretty worthless tonight.
Rondo being so worthless makes you wonder why Darren Collison didn’t start. Collison finished with 13 points, 6 assists, 1 steal, and shot 5-of-12. He was a blur in the open court, like we all remember, and gave the Clippers fits. Uncharacteristically, Collison missed 3 of his 5 free throws. So, that’s weird. Omri Casspi is just randomly good. He only had 5 points tonight on 5 shots, but he had 9 rebounds. He just always seems to be around the ball. Marco Belinelli had 9 points on 12 shots. All 9 points came on threes. Caron Butler had 8 points on 7 shots in 12:40. Always nice to see the former Clipper. Rookie Willie Cauley-Stein had 2 points and 2 rebounds in 7:51 during his NBA debut.
The Kings do have some potential and showed why they can give teams problems every night. They have the ability to win quite a few games this year and possibly make a run to one of the last playoff spots, but that won’t happen unless George Karl starts Darren Collison over Rajon Rondo. There’s also the issue of getting more out of Ben McLemore. That or just starting Marco Belinelli in his stead. Can’t get 9 points on 13 shots from your starting backcourt. Especially when one of those two guys is a liability offensively – i.e. Rondo. Kings have a future. Just need to understand it better.
Onto the next one. What happened tonight is over with. The team has to move on and get ready for the Dallas Mavericks in Los Angeles tomorrow night. Dallas went into the Valley of the Sun and beat the Phoenix Suns by 16 points tonight. Deron Williams injured his knee during the game, but he appears like he’ll be ready to go for tomorrow’s game. You can’t take a team like Dallas lightly, even if you know you have far more talent than they do. Mavericks had eight players score in double-figures tonight, and the Clippers must find a way to prevent Dallas from whipping the ball around the court and generating so many open looks.
All told, a win was what was required tonight to get the season started off on the right foot. A win was what was delivered. Lance Stephenson did well in his first official start of the season and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s able to keep that up going forward. Chris Paul was great in the passing game, Blake Griffin was electric in everything he did, and DeAndre Jordan was a force in the middle. That’s the team’s big three. They’ll have to show up again tomorrow, especially Jordan since he must know that Dallas will be gunning for him after what transpired this offseason.
Moving to 2-0 isn’t a crucial requirement of this team right now. The process matters more than the overall results in the first couple weeks of the season. But, realistically, you want to get off to the best start possible. The Clippers have the ability to 4-0 prior to traveling up north to play the Golden State Warriors. They just need to put it together. As a reminder, tomorrow night’s game will be on TNT so there will be no Prime Ticket broadcast. For now, enjoy the win. Look forward, though. All eyes ahead.