The prettiest of games are not often the ones where you blow a team out and get to trounce over their rotting corpse as the final seconds dwindle down. After a while, those ones get boring. The truly pretty ones are the ones you have to tough through. The ones you have to overcome some type of adversity in and come out on the other side feeling better about yourselves. Tonight, that’s exactly what happened for the Los Angeles Clippers as they knocked off the Sacramento Kings by the final score of 114-109. It was a vastly interesting game from beginning to end, but was marred by a player having to leave at halftime due to injury.
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You could just tell from the early going that this was going to be a struggle for the Clippers. They looked uninspired, lazy, and just plain bored at times. While their offensive numbers certainly don’t show that trend, you could just see it when they were on the court. There were lazy rotations, lazy shots, and lazy boxing out attempts. Lazy could be the word used to describe this game for them. Yet, despite that laziness, they were able to hold off a spirited Kings squad who tried to wrestle a victory away from the Clippers just like they tried to do on Wednesday night.
The Clippers led by as much as 12 points, a lead that came with roughly 4 minutes to go in the third quarter. That was the largest lead the team had built all night long. It didn’t hold. The Kings came storming back behind a slew of made shots by a hodgepodge of players, and eventually took the lead with just over 6 minutes to play. Los Angeles regained the lead shortly thereafter and never lost it again, but the Kings just wouldn’t say die. Sacramento cut the lead to one possession a few times down the stretch, but never were able to fully retake control. The Clippers made their final 8 free throw attempts of the night and iced the game for a 114-109 victory.
We could go on-and-on about how terrible this team looked tonight, but Doc Rivers summed it up perfectly in the postgame press conference by saying the only positive from tonight’s game was that the team actually won. While blunt, it is to the overall point. The team looked like a team that didn’t want to take the court and that’s the kind of thing that cannot happen. It’s understandable, though, since they’re playing a team for the second time in four days. It makes sense. However, the team had to come out with better energy and not make things so tough for themselves. They’re lucky they have the players they do or else this would have been a loss.
Speaking of those players, four of them had rather resounding nights. The star of the night was Blake Griffin, yet again. He finished with 37 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and was just a dominating force out there. Griffin scored 14 of his 37 in the fourth quarter on 5-of-7 shooting. He was 13-of-22 shooting overall and 11-of-15 from the line. It’s starting to become difficult to come up with new and exciting ways to describe just how transcendent of a player he is at this point in time. Griffin is just good, man.
Perhaps the second most influential player of the night was J.J. Redick, as he finished with 23 points on a ridiculous 8-of-9 shooting. He knocked down both of his threes and all 5 of his free throws. His night was so insane that he finished a True Shooting Percentage of 102.7 percent. The team needed him to come through on the perimeter with his shot and he did – massively.
Redick’s backcourt mate, the dazzling Chris Paul, finished with 17 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds on 5-of-13 shooting. Paul was just 1-of-5 from beyond the arc and did miss two free throws. He’s still slumping a little bit as far as his shot goes, but there’s nothing to worry about there. His left index finger is still heavily taped up and dealing with that is no easy thing. Paul is able to dime, dish, and deliver. He’s still as good as he ever was. He’s just dealing with some stuff right now and he’ll eventually be fine.
It’s truly amazing the type of statistical night DeAndre Jordan had. He finished with 15 points, 18 rebounds, and 7 blocks on 5-of-6 shooting. He struggled at the line, making just 5-of-12, but he still made his impact felt in so many areas. Jordan was a team-high +24 in plus-minus, and that seems appropriate given the type of stuff he was doing out there. It goes without saying, but it still needs to be said. This team would be screwed without him. As great as Griffin and Paul are, Jordan might be the most instrumental piece to their championship puzzle right now. He did appear like he injured himself late in the game as he blocked a shot, but no word yet on the severity of it. It did not look all that bad from first glance, though.
While he’s had both hot and cold games already to start his career in Los Angeles, Lance Stephenson played phenomenal tonight. He had a plus-minus of +20 in 24:17 and shot 3-of-6 from the field to finish with 7 points. The points are nice, but what he does on the court beyond that is even more important. Stephenson had 4 assists, a few of them coming on absolutely astonishing no-look passes or just seriously sweet dimes. He also had 2 rebounds and generally played some tough defense all night. Stephenson finished with a Defensive Rating of 91.2, tops among all players tonight. He also finished with a team-best +33.8 Net Rating.
As fantastic as the starters were, the bench was godawful. They were awesome the other night against the Dallas Mavericks, but tonight they were a dumpster fire of epic proportions. They combined to shoot just 5-of-20 overall and 1-of-9 from beyond the arc. Jamal Crawford led the way with 10 points, but he only shot 3-of-10 and was absolutely dreadful defensively. On the play where Jordan got injured, Crawford let his man blow right past him and that’s what forced Jordan to help. There was absolutely zero reason for Doc Rivers to play Crawford down the stretch of this game and, on nights like these when Stephenson is vastly outplaying him, Doc needs to recognize that Jamal is only hurting the team. It almost ended in a loss because of his stubborn ways.
It makes no sense that Paul Pierce played 13:46 and only fired off one shot. It was a made three. He finished with 2 rebounds, as well. Josh Smith was still horrific, shooting just 1-of-4. He’s now a laughably bad 2-of-11 from the field with the Clippers and has 8 turnovers to go with his 8 total points. Blocks or not, Smith has to do something on offense or else he’s just a waste of space at this point. He should get better, though, so there is hope. Austin Rivers was 0-of-3 and shaky tonight, but played great defense only to have players drain shots right in his face. Nothing you can do about that. Wesley Johnson was 0-of-2 with 1 rebound. He had open looks from three and just missed them. It happens.
On Thursday night, the bench was great. Tonight, it wasn’t. They played as if they had never seen each other in their lives. Shooting 5-of-20 and committing 6 turnovers is inexcusable. They have to do better. Doc also has to do better, as well. Recognition of who is and who is not playing well is a big deal. If this were a game against a healthier, better team, then perhaps this is a loss because he chose to go with Crawford down the stretch rather than Stephenson or Pierce. Little things matter. Doc dropped the ball tonight despite the team winning the game.
Speaking of dropping the ball, 17 turnovers is not ideal. Neither is giving up 19 offensive rebounds. The Kings only shot 25-of-53 inside the paint tonight, which means the Clippers might have gotten lucky. In fact, Sacramento was just 8-of-20 on second chances. The Clippers were 6-of-7 themselves. Clippers also were 26-of-36 inside the paint and finished with a 52-50 advantage there in points scored. Giving a team 17 more cracks at the rim from in close is not smart. Shoring up the rebounding is something that needs to be addressed. Griffin and Jordan are fine. They could be better, but at least you know what you’re getting. No one else boxes out, though. And that’s the larger issue. But, hey, the team won and that’s the bright side.
The Kings’ All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins has gone on record as saying he’s not quite fond of the Clippers. And that’s fine. In fact, that’s good. That type of energy and enthusiasm means we get to see a star player come out and try to whip the ones he hates. Unfortunately, we were robbed of that because Cousins had to leave the game at halftime due to a strained right achilles tendon. We wish him the best and hope he doesn’t miss any significant time from it. Injuries suck.
However, while he was in the game, the monster known as Boogie put up 13 points and 9 rebounds in just 15:19. He was making life a living hell for the Clippers. So, too, was Willie Cauley-Stein when he wasn’t battling foul trouble. The rookie played just 22:48 because of 5 fouls, but he had 8 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, and blocked 1 shot while finishing with a +4 plus-minus. He was a godsend for them. Cousins and Cauley-Stein are going to be a fearsome duo for quite some time.
The point guard duo of Rajon Rondo and Darren Collison combined to drop 36 points tonight on 33 shots. Rondo was nailing jumpers, Collison hit a huge three late to give the Kings a chance, and they were just great all night long. Rondo also had 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals to go with his 21 points. Collison had 6 assists and 3 rebounds to go with his 15 points. Maybe Rondo was rusty during the first meeting because tonight he was sensational.
While he shot just 8-of-23, you couldn’t help but feel like Rudy Gay was hitting some big shots. He finished with 20 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals, but Gay hit a myriad of tough shots over a variety of defenders at some points throughout this game. He was good. Ben McLemore only played 10:25 and registered 3 points on 3 shots. He still looks like he has no idea what basketball is right now. He has his highs and lows, but McLemore has got to figure it out sooner rather than later if he wants to keep his job.
Collison wasn’t the only Kings bench player to perform well. Omri Casspi had 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists while compiling a +13 plus-minus and going 4-of-6 from the field. Kostas Koufas, who started Wednesday night, went 2-of-5 and finished with 4 points and 7 rebounds before fouling out. Marco Belinelli only went 2-of-8, but he finished with 11 points and hit what looked like a massive three to give the Kings a fighting chance before it was ultimately ruled a foot-on-the-line two. Caron Butler had 4 points on 2-of-4 shooting. One of those makes was an insane high degree of difficulty over a contesting defender.
All told, the Kings never gave up tonight. They even had a chance to steal this game towards the end of it, just like Wednesday night. The Cousins injury was unfortunate and could be part of the reason that they lost. However, they certainly appeared to defend a lot better without him. George Karl had his guys pumped and ready to go, and no doubt they feel like the referees probably screwed them in this game. The Clippers attempted 21 more free throw attempts than Sacramento, so it is understandable to see why they would be angry. The officiating tonight was pretty bad both ways and I think both teams can agree that they wouldn’t want to see any of these officials for quite some time.
There’s really nothing to write home about this game. The Clippers won, but it wasn’t great. However, it did have its pretty moments. The team had to scratch and claw for every point they had, and that’s okay. It’s sort of endearing – in a masochistic kind of way. Look at the bright spots. The entire starting unit played fantastic, yet again, and they’re the engine that runs this team. All five guys played harmonious tonight and that’s the kind of stuff you should be able to take to the bank.
Unfortunately, the bench has a lot to work on. Maybe they’re going through a funk that they’ll just suddenly burst out of, but games like tonight cannot happen. They happened last season and the Clippers were oftentimes sunk because of the guys off the pine. Thankfully, the starters came back in and did what they do best; massacre teams with spurts of greatness. Smith and Crawford were terrible tonight, and everyone else was sort of just there. And not even the good kind of “there.” They were sleepwalking. Maybe they ate too much Halloween candy.
Either way, a win is a win and the team has to move on. They welcome the Phoenix Suns into STAPLES Center on Monday night. The Clippers are on the verge of their first 4-0 start to a season since 2007-08. Wins are always fun, no matter the process used to earn them. Phoenix was in Portland tonight and beat the Trail Blazers for the second consecutive evening. They possess the type of guards who can give the Clippers problems, and they usually do. They also have Tyson Chandler, the DeAndre Jordan before DeAndre Jordan. As always, it’s best to remember to keep your eyes firmly focused ahead of you and to get prepared for the task at hand. This was a game the Clippers could have easily lost, yet they found a way to earn the win. Wins are earned, not given. The Clippers took this one tonight. Happy Halloween. Be safe.