The first Clipper win of the season is in the books.
Against a surprisingly game opponent in the Sydney Kings, the LA Clippers led wire-to-wire in a 110-91 win at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. The 19-point margin was not entirely indicative of the competitiveness of the contest, as the Kings stayed within single digits for the much of the first three quarters. However, the Clippers played like the team with superior talent.
Instead of using this preseason opener as an opportunity to evaluate the Clippers’ numerous roster options, head coach Doc Rivers was already in regular-season game management mode. He opted for a 10-man rotation more representative of a meaningful NBA contest that left little room for the Clippers’ youngsters to stretch their legs, with the notable exception of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The no. 11 pick in the 2018 NBA draft had a confident debut, coming off the bench to play backup point guard alongside Lou Williams, Luc Mbah a Moute, Mike Scott, and Montrezl Harrell. Gilgeous-Alexander’s length was most evident on the defensive end, where he was active in the passing lanes. He had four steals on the night, as many as the entire Kings team, including one in the backcourt when he caught his opponent napping and finished an and-one. The rookie also stole the ball on the ensuing possession, this time in the half-court, and found Williams in transition for a fast-break score.
“I had a little bit of nerves at first, but once I started going up and down, those went away,” he told Jaime Maggio of Fox Sports at halftime. “I felt good, I felt comfortable. Training camp really helped.... I’m a competitor and I’m for the team. I think if you do those two things, anybody will want to play with you and any team will want you, so that’s the first two things I wanted to show.”
Gilgeous-Alexander also had success running the pick-and-roll and getting into the lane on offense, earning five free-throw attempts in the process. He was very comfortable handling the ball, capably used screens from Harrell, and ended up with four assists and 10 points, one of seven Clippers who finished the game with double figures.
Tobias Harris led the team with 20 points and 11 rebounds on 8-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from three-point range. Harris had little difficulty creating separation and demonstrated his fluidity on offense while knocking down jumpers and driving into the lane. Williams is the Clippers’ purest scorer, but Harris’ ability to carry the offense in the starting lineup could elevate the team’s ceiling.
The Clipper offense featured more ball movement than in recent years, particularly in the first unit. Harris, not exactly known for his passing at previous stops in his NBA career, was one of three Clippers with five assists, including Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari. The passing was contagious, and the team had 31 assists on its 41 made field goals.
The defense had some gaps, particularly against Sydney’s Jerome Randle. The 5-foot-10 guard scored 14 points in the second quarter and assisted on five more. He finished with 25, but earned more attention from Beverley and Avery Bradley in the second half. After allowing 54 points in the first half, the Clippers clamped down and only conceded 37 after halftime. Harris was a strong rim protector in the fourth quarter when he played at the four in a smaller lineup.
Wednesday’s game against Minnesota will likely present a stiffer challenge, but the Clippers have passed their first test of the season.
- LA held true to Lawler’s Law for the first of hopefully many times in Ralph Lawler’s final season as the team’s broadcaster.
- Harrell and Scott had been on the third unit in scrimmages in Hawaii, but the pair supplanted Sindarius Thornwell and Boban Marjanovic for the backup big minutes.
- Jerome Robinson scored his first NBA basket on a long two-pointer off a curl, his fellow rookie Gilgeous-Alexander with the assist.
- Thornwell, Wes Johnson, Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado were DNP-CDs.
- Jawun Evans was barely better, getting in for a few seconds at the end of the first quarter. Ty Wallace, Robinson, Marjanovic, and Johnathan Motley each got to play about a minute at the end of the game.