Doc Rivers seems frustrated even during some of the best times. Imagine how he felt during this one. If you watched, you don't have to, because his face said it all. Well, maybe not it all -- his words said it too.
Clearly motivated not to be humiliated again, this time in front of a national television audience and the Commissioner himself, the Lakers played a dramatically better game than in Sunday's Easter evisceration.
The Lakers played with aggression and focus, the latter being something Doc Rivers said his starters were missing during his between-quarters interview in the second half. Doc was being unduly harsh -- the starters' play was mostly crisp, especially offensively -- but the team failed to consistently match its opponent's energy.
Whether the Lakers were spurred by their coach's foxhole comments, or if they just stayed in a Holiday Inn Express Monday night, their transformation was dramatic. They were far from flawless, but there was suddenly ball movement, defensive rotation, outside shooting, and some other things that resembled actual NBA-caliber play. Rookie guard Jordan Clarkson personified this sudden improvement, rebounding from a 2-point performance on Sunday to score a team-high 20 with 6 assists. Working out of more isolations to avoid the Clipper traps, Clarkson found little resistance on his frequent drives to the basket, of which he found few last game. There was stout resistance on other drives, and he still finished those plays anyway.
The Clippers didn't look bad, per se, just a bit lethargic, especially on defense. Several possessions ended with palms up or fingers pointed, tell-tale signs of a missed assignment. The offense was mostly sharp, with heady ball movement that has become one of this starting unit's calling cards, even if the shooting was not. The Clippers converted only 7 of 24 three-point attempts. The Lakers' improved defensive effort had something to do with it, but the Clippers just missed some shots, too.
The star was shared by the home team, with strong performances coming from most of the starting lineup. J.J. Redick did his first-quarter thing, scoring 14 on his way to 27 for the game, finishing 4 for 6 from deep. Chris Paul stole the third quarter when he scored 11 of his 19 points and picked the Lakers for two steals. He also finished with 10 assists against zero turnovers. Blake Griffin (27/7/6) and DeAndre Jordan (8/17) were consistently productive. Blake's passing was a highlight, no more so than when he flipped a behind-the-back pass to Redick in the corner to finish a 2nd quarter fastbreak.
As for the bench, the less said the better. Jamal Crawford had a quiet return, rarely asserting himself, and finishing with 4 points. The bench play looks improved, especially on the offensive side, where they no longer appear to play without a plan. There's a scheme there. But, the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding says that no bench player managed a positive plus-minus, a pretty damning statistic considering the level of competition. TNT analyst Mike Fratello stated the obvious, that it's unlikely that Doc will play a five-man bench in the playoffs, but exactly how he determines which three or four reserves continue to get minutes bears watching.
This one was tighter than it ever should have been, getting as close as 87-86 with just under 6 minutes remaining. The Clippers, with a heavy edge in talent and chemistry, effectively secured the win with an 8-0 run after the starters returned to the floor, although the Lakers kept it interesting almost all the way up to the final whistle. Four Lakers finished with double-digit scoring totals, and the team tallied respectable shooting (36% from three) and assist (24) totals.
A win is a win in the standings, and it will help in the Clippers' tooth-and-nail battle for playoff position. It only feels like a Laker win.
Some other (mostly serious) things I noticed:
- Is anyone else still on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon? Hello? I'm still here. No, this bus doesn't appear to be on its way to stardom anymore, but why can't he be a terrifying sixth man? The athleticism is still there, the finishing mostly so, and his interior passing has runs of impressiveness, like it did tonight. He's too inefficient and too ball-dominant to be more than a meh starting guard, but on a team with the shooting to provide him some open floor, he can be aces for 15 minutes a night. I'm not giving up my seat yet.
- Saw this guy on TV, and ESPN reporter Arash Markazi was kind enough to tweet it: