This game didn’t end up being that meaningful in narrative.
Blake Griffin was going up against his old team for the first time. Sharing that experience, but in the other locker room, were Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and Boban Marjonivic.
None of those narratives ended up being that compelling. There was little on-court tension (aside from a routine scuffle between Griffin and Bradley, who have never been teammates), Bradley had a solid 10-point, 8-rebound game, but didn’t do anything exemplary. Griffin (19 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists on 7-19 FG and 1-7 3PT) and Harris (12 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 5-14 FG and 2-7 3PT) both had underwhelming performances after trading starting spots in last week’s trade. And Marjanovic, like in most of the contests this season, didn’t get off of the bench.
Despite all of those big-time potential revenge narratives, an unexpected one ended up emerging. Reggie Bullock, who was drafted 25th overall by the Clippers in 2013 and then traded by the team for Austin Rivers in 2015 after disappointing in his first two seasons, has emerged as a solid player for Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons this season, actually earning a starting job and shooting 45% from deep. Tonight, he had 19 points on 7-11 shooting and 5-9 from deep. There’s little question that he’s been the most successful draft pick of the Doc Rivers era, despite having none of that success with Rivers’ team.
Bullocks’ revenge wasn’t nearly enough, though, for the Pistons to overcome the Clippers. The game was close throughout, but the Clippers shut down Detroit’s offense in the final frame. They won the quarter 31-15, and the game, 108-95.
Both teams featured a well-balanced scoring attack, each with 6 players in double figures. For the Pistons, no player eclipsed 20 points, but for the Clippers, Lou Williams led the team with 26. He had a rough start, with all four of the team’s first four turnovers, but finished with 26 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals on 7-12 from the field, 4-6 from deep, and 8-9 from the line—one of his better games recently. Montrezl Harrell also had a noteworthy performance off of the bench, contributing an efficient 18 points in 19 minutes, helping the Clippers’ second unit withstand the Pistons’ staggering strategy, which saw Andre Drummond play with Detroit’s bench lineup.
In the starting lineup for the Clippers, Gallinari shared Harris’ struggles, posting 16 points on just 5-13 shooting (2-7 from deep). Austin Rivers had a solid return after missing over a month with an ankle injury, chipping in with an efficient 16 points and 5 assists while filling in for the injured Milos Teodosic. And DeAndre Jordan, still with the team following the trade deadline, had 4 points, 17 rebounds, and 4 assists.
It’s a huge win for the Clippers, even though the obvious narrative of Blake Griffin facing his former team didn’t end up becoming compelling (aside from Griffin avoiding hugs/handshakes after the game). Even without the narrative, the tangible implications of this game are obvious. The Clippers, of course, are trying to make a late-season run towards the playoffs, and every game counts. Tonight’s win lifts them to 28-25, and, in conjunction with losses by New Orleans and Denver, moves the Clippers into 7th place in the conference.
But tonight’s win does more than just help the Clippers directly—it helps them indirectly, by hurting the Pistons. The Clippers, as a result of the Blake Griffin trade, own the Pistons’ 2018 first-round draft pick. That means that it’s in the Clippers’ interest for the Pistons to fail in their own quest to climb the Eastern Conference playoff standings, and every loss helps that cause. This loss keeps the Pistons out of the playoffs and in the lottery, where the Clippers would like them to be in order to get a higher selection conveyed from Detroit.