Despite this game’s importance as the debut of new Clippers Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley, it was a highly uneventful contest. There were no fights, no dramatic moments, no game-winning plays. The Clippers worked their way ahead in the first quarter, and never let go for the rest of the game. Their leads went from as big as 15 to as small as 5, but it never seemed like the Bulls really had a chance to win it. There was no garbage time, and all nine Clippers who entered the game played well. The first quarter had some painful offensive execution and shot-making, but the rest of the game played out like an almost textbook definition of an average NBA game, with one more talented team beating out a lesser one.
- Tobias Harris Plays Well: The centerpiece to the Blake Griffin deal was the 25 year old forward Harris, and he had an overall fantastic debut performance. Tobias scored 24 points on 10-19 shooting, connecting on 3-6 threes and 1-2 free throws. He also chipped in four rebounds, two assists, and a block with only one turnover. Harris demonstrated his full repertoire as a scorer. He nailed catch-and-shoot threes as well as bombs off the dribble, had nice drives to the basket, drained a couple pull-up jumpers out of the pick and roll, and had the game-sealing bucket in the post. There are times when he has blinders with the ball, and he could generate contact better, but there’s no question he is a dangerous scorer.
- Avery Bradley Likes Bad Shots: Bradley’s statline doesn’t look horrible, if somewhat paltry. He scored 8 points on 4-9 shooting, and added two rebounds and four assists. Not too bad. His defense, as advertised, is pesky, and he had some nice contests on Zach LaVine. However, his offensive game is an eyesore. All but two of his shots were midrange jumpshots, and while he connected on four of them, they are highly inefficient shots. He doesn’t have the handle to get to the basket off the dribble consistently, but it would be nicer if he shifted those midrange shots behind the three-point line. His shot selection was already driving fans crazy by the 2nd quarter, especially since so many of the other Clippers’ players are efficient in their own ways. Hopefully Bradley will take better shots as he becomes more acclimated to the offense.
- Danilo Gallinari has Best Game of Season: Maybe swapping Blake for Tobias gave the spacing necessary for Gallinari to operate. Or maybe he was just more comfortable as option 1a/1b rather than 2. Either way, he was terrific today, scoring 24 points on just 14 shots. He made his open threes, got to the free throw line, and was monstrous on the boards (9 in 30 minutes). His defense looked much, much better at power forward than at small forward, and he had some solid contests around the rim, using his 6’10 height. This is the Gallo that the Clippers thought they were signing this summer, and if he keeps this up, his contract won’t look so bad after all. He and Harris already complemented each other well in their first game, and their spacing opened up the floor for everyone else as well. Fingers crossed that this wasn’t a fluke for Danilo.
- Doc Changes Rotations: I figured that the rotations would shift quite a bit with the arrivals of Bradley and Harris and the departure of Blake, but had no idea how much Doc would adjust. He completely staggered Harris and Gallinari-- Harris played most if not all of the 1st and 3rd quarters, while Gallo came back in with the bench for the early 2nd and 4th quarters. Instead of bringing Lou Williams off the bench first for Milos Teodosic, Tyrone Wallace was the first sub to enter the game. Lou still played the remainder of the halves after he checked in, but he didn’t come in quite as early as he has done for the past month or so. Wes Johnson moved back to the bench, and played at both small forward and power forward, but mostly at the latter position. This is because Doc had Avery Bradley playing small forward alongside Wallace/Milos and Lou. That, in turn, excised Sam Dekker and Sindarius Thornwell from the rotation. It seems unlikely that either of them plays in a healthy Clippers’ rotation, especially with Austin Rivers coming back soon. Jawun Evans will probably also be out of a rotation spot when he returns, as well.
- Solid Win: Look, the Bulls are bad. But the Clippers were playing with two major new pieces for the first time, and played at a relatively high level. If they can get this kind of scoring production from Harris and Gallinari on a regular basis, they should be in playoff contention barring trades. The Clippers have a fair amount of talent, and after one game, the fit appears to be sound. There was more spacing on the court today, and the perimeter defense was also quicker than it has been most of the season. The question is, will those improvements be enough to offset the loss of Blake Griffin’s overall stardom and all-around play? I’m not sure, but this game was a good sign that the Clippers can still compete without Blake.
- Road Ahead: The Clippers play at home against the Mavericks on Monday, another game that should be a win. After that, they don’t play again until Friday, when they will take on Blake and the Pistons in Detroit. That game is Austin’s target date for return, and it is also the first game after the trade deadline. Keep tuned for further trades, as rumors continue to swirl around DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams, and Avery Bradley.