The Los Angeles Clippers took care of business and showed good energy throughout the entire game. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul led the team, but the rest of the team showed up and helped the team when Griffin was being his usual godly self. The Timberwolves were without Ricky Rubio.
The Clippers continued their experimentation at SF by starting Luc Mbah Moute (LMM). LMM’s play was nothing notable; on one offensive possession he spaced himself incorrectly and found himself in the same corner as J.J. Redick. Thankfully Chris Paul hit a jumper and nothing was detracted on the offensive play. LMM ended the first half with 3 points on 1 of 3 shooting (a corner 3) and 1 rebound. Ultimately, LMM had limited playing time in the first half (7.5 minutes) because of great play by Lance Stephenson. (More on Lance later).
Overall the Clippers were fine in the first quarter. They started off rusty and were down early. Chris Paul had 3 turnovers before recording his first assist. The offense for a while was sloppy. Perhaps the sloppy play can be written off as the holiday weekend and early start time (the NBA is trying more matinee games to appeal to the European audience). Yet the Clippers powered through and ended the quarter up 23-19.
The Clippers had a good quarter and it was powered in significant part by the bench. Building off the latter part of the first quarter, the Clippers were on a 20-4 run before the Minnesota Timberwolves scored to stop the run. The Clippers’ run witnessed its bench playing aggressively on offense by dribbling towards the basket and not settling for isolation plays or 3 point basket attempts. A good example of this would be Josh Smith: 2 of 3 from the field for 4 points; both baskets were within 5 feet of the basket. One of the baskets was a very pretty spin move that faked out his defender. Smith added 3 rebounds and 1 block in the first half. The bigger bench star though was Lance Stephenson; his first half stat line was 7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. Lance did a little of everything as exemplified by his 2 offensive rebounds. One of his offensive rebounds came after he soared for a put back on a missed shot and found the ball in arms as he landed. His energy and play kept him in when the starters returned onto the court. Overall the Clippers weathered some runs by the Timberwolves and ended the half up 48 to 37.
The SF production continued this quarter. This time it was LMM’s turn to shine. After a quiet first half, LMM got much more playing time (more than 9 minutes in the quarter). This was probably due to his production in a bit of every facet of the game. He had decent off ball movement and drained another corner 3. LMM was able to box out Wiggins for an offensive rebound that came from a shot that he had created when he passed up a contested corner 3. In another sequence LMM made a nice touch pass from a pass by Chris Paul and assisted on an easy layup by Blake Griffin. Overall LMM seemed fine with his role on offense: corner 3’s or dribble penetrate. So while LMM’s stat line may not jump out as much as Lance’s, LMM had a solid quarter.
The Clippers also had a pretty good quarter. After the Timberwolves made a run to reduce the lead to 56-52, the Clippers made a run of their own with highlights including a pretty dribble and layup by Lance Stephenson that evidently left him smiling as he ran back on defense. The 15-5 run pushed the Clippers to a 71 to 57 lead and the quarter ended with the Clippers up 71 to 61.
To be clear, not everything was clicking. Blake Griffin was thoroughly mediocre on offense as he was at 4 of 10 from the field and not having his jumpers fall. Jamal Crawford was even worse and bordering the realms of terrible. At the end of the 3rd quarter his stats were 0 for 2 on shots with 1 assist and 3 turnovers. His passing was simply inaccurate.
The Timberwolves made another run in this quarter and got the lead down to 5 points. However, the Clippers stayed calm and executed. Blake Griffin started hitting his jumpers and Chris Paul was his awesome usual self. The Clippers responded to the first Wolves run by going on a short run of their own to push it to 95 to 83. The lead was later reduced to 6 after DeAndre Jordan picked up another technical foul. While unclear for its cause, it may have been due to complaints lobbed at the referees after Blake Griffin was poked in the eye and no foul was called against the Wolves (and instead a foul was called on DeAndre Jordan). In the end the teams traded buckets and DJ hit some free throws to end ensure the Clippers held on.
The SF position ended strong for the Clippers. Both Lance and LMM had some good plays in the quarter. On one play Lance got a rebound and pushed the ball up court to which he found a teammate for a transition 3. LMM also showed some great hustle with tap outs on offense and a poke away steal that led to a Chris Paul jumper. The rest of the bench also showed pretty some heads up plays and contributed well overall. Josh Smith continued to look and dribble towards the basket on offense and did NOT shoot a single 3 for the entire game. Paul Pierce chipped in with 4 of 8 shooting for 10 points, though his defense was still below par (i.e. he had times when he was getting blown by).
The game was a good effort by the team. The energy was there and they handled their business. The score was closer than it ever really felt; the Clippers seemed in control of the game after initial sluggish start. The small forward position was fine and offered promising glimpses from both LMM and Lance Stephenson. After tons of turnovers in the first quarter, the Clippers limited their turnovers and also balanced out what had started out as horrible 3 point shooting by ending the game 8 of 22 (36.4%). The Clippers play next tomorrow night at home against Portland at 7:30 PM PST.