The L.A. Clippers have faced a daunting task over the last week-and-a-half: overcome the absences of Blake Griffin as well as Chris Paul while trying to remain afloat in the Western Conference. The results haven’t been pretty with L.A. losing six consecutive games for the first time since Doc Rivers took over as head coach and President of the team. Coming back home from a three game road-trip, the Clippers looked to regain their footing against the young Phoenix Suns.
Without Griffin and Paul, the ball hopped around for most of the night and although it didn’t result in a high assist total (just 17 assists on 36 made baskets), it did result in a very balanced attack the Clippers haven’t seen over the past couple of games.
Nine Clippers saw action on Monday night, and all nine scored. Not only that, but five scored at least 10 points and three players came within a single point of reaching double-figures.
J.J. Redick led the way with 22 points, on 9-14 shooting from the field and 3-5 from downtown. Jamal Crawford added 18 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Raymond Felton put in 16 points, four rebounds, and five assists. Luc Mbah a Moute added 13 points, three rebounds. Brandon Bass scored 10 points in 15 minutes. DeAndre Jordan had 14 second-half rebounds and finished with nine points, and 20 boards, and three blocked shots. Austin Rivers struggled mightily with his shot (2-11 from the field), but finished with a decent line of nine points, four rebounds, and five assists.
“I told them to keep attacking the basket,” said head coach Doc Rivers. “Early on Raymond couldn’t buy a layup and Aastin was making them. In the second half, Austin couldn’t buy a layup, and Raymond started making them. We just told them to get to the basket and create havoc; then if the defense pulled in, throw it out. I thought that’s why J.J. got shots today: because Jamal, Austin, and Raymond were attacking the basket. It turned into baskets for J.J.”
The offense that has averaged 109.8 points per game on 47% shooting dropped to 99 points per game on 43% shooting during the six-game skid.
“That’s the silver lining, trying to find different ways to score,” added Rivers about playing without their two all-stars. “We scored 109 points tonight, so that is really good for us. The ball movement was good. The attacks were good.”
Over the past couple of games, Rivers has opted to start veteran forward Paul Pierce, and it’s resulted in slow starts that essentially put the Clippers away early in the game. Against Phoenix, he opted to start a three-guard lineup of Felton, Redick, and Rivers, two of which have been key to the Clippers bench.
With the smaller lineup, L.A. was able to match Phoenix’s speed and limit them offensively the entire night. Eric Bledsoe finished with 22 points, but shot just 8-27 from the field while Devin Booker had 13 points on 4-15 shooting.
“Remember when you have starters out, you don’t have a bench anymore. Half of your bench is starting so it is not the bench that we have been playing with all year. We have more guys playing right now. When we have out starters back and our bench back intact, I think that will make us better.”
The shorthanded bench, which has been a strong suit this season, put in 40 points, outscoring Phoenix’s bench 40-19. One player who coach Rivers says always stays ready came in and was immediately effective. Brandon Bass, who’s averaged just 11.4 minutes and played in 21 of the Clippers’ 36 games before Monday night, brought hustle and aggressiveness off the bench. Bass had six quick points on 3-3 shooting in the first quarter, physically overmatching Suns’ small forward T.J. Warren in the post.
A big second quarter in which they scored 37 points on 10-16 shooting and 14-17 from the free throw line helped L.A. get going offensively. They then ran off 14 straight points late in the third quarter that increased a 75-70 lead to 89-70 with under two minutes left in the third.
“Phoenix had a lot of transition buckets against us in the first half,” said Redick about the win. “But in the second half, we had unbelievable half-court defense. It reminded me of earlier in the season when we were flying around covering for each other, our rotations were phenomenal tonight.”
Despite the great overall effort, the Clippers still have a lot of work to do. An overall solid game despite missing two stars was overshadowed by 20 turnovers and some 19 offensive rebounds for the opposition. That may have been just enough to bring in a victory over the Phoenix Suns, but a much tougher Memphis Grizzlies team awaits the Clippers Wednesday night.