Wary enough of the struggling New York Knicks, the Clippers had to endure a bigger scare Wednesday night.
They certainly didn’t enjoy seeing Chris Paul leave the floor and head into the locker room in the third quarter with a right hamstring strain.
But they enjoyed the heck out of their reserves in a 93-80 victory at Staples Center. And oh by the way, Paul – who didn’t return to the game – insists he’s OK and will play Friday night in Sacramento.
“Our bench won the game tonight,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Our starters had a rare flat first half and our bench came in and we got an 11-point lead.
“I didn’t think we had a great pace all game. I don’t know why it happens. Again the bench came in and changed the pace of the game, speed and floor spacing. We went back to the proper floor spacing when the bench was in. Maybe that was it.”
The five reserves scored 34 points and with Darren Collison (nine points, three assists) playing at point guard for Paul over the final 15 minutes, the Clippers (11-5) never let the Knicks (3-11) threaten as they lost their seventh straight game.
“It was a good opportunity,” Collison said. “It’s Not all the time the starters are going to do everything. The second unit has to give some help and I think Doc is giving us the opportunity. He’s letting us play and we’re succeeding well. I think the biggest thing is we’re playing defense, and that’s all that matters.
Blake Griffin had 15 points and 13 rebounds and J.J. Redick had 15 points for the Clippers, who improved to 8-1 in home games. After Friday’s game, they are home Sunday against Indiana before embarking on a seven-game road trip.
DeAndre Jordan had nine points and 13 rebounds and Jamal Crawford had 13 off the bench despite missing 7 of 10 shots for the Clippers.
But the primary concern was the status of Paul.
“I just strained my hamstring a little bit. I’m all right,” he said. “I went to the back a little bit, kind of worked on it. I was on the bike watching the game. I told Doc, ‘If you need me, I can go.’
“It’s a little tight but I’ll be all right. I’ll be ready Friday.”
That remains to be seen, of course.
“It was his hamstring and I think he and J.P. (trainer Jasen Powell) said he could have come back in, but there was no chance that he was coming back in,” Rivers said. “Of course, (Paul) told me twice already that he’ll be ready for Friday, that doesn’t mean it’s true. That’s just what he said.”
Collison played 22 minutes, two shy of his season high, but had little choice. In terms of true point guards, it’s Paul and Collison and that’s it for the Clippers.
“We only have two point guards on the team,” Collison said. “That’s something me and the coaches have talked about, that I’ve got to be ready. Times like this with Chris not all the way healthy, I’ve got to be ready to go in there and do my job.
“I’ve been watching Chris for a very long time and I’ve seen how he runs the offense and I’m fine with that. For me it’s just relying on my defense, keep things simple and make sure my teammates get in all the right spots.”
Carmelo Anthony scored 19 of his 27 points in the first half, but New York could muster only 12 points in the final period. Andrea Bargnani had 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Knicks, who are 0-3 on their current four-game road trip.
Felton, who missed four games with a lower back/hip injury, had 12 points and seven assists in 35 minutes. But the Knicks shot only 38.6 percent from the field.
New York got off to a fast start and led by as many as nine points, but the Clippers limited the Knicks to making only 21 of 62 shots after the first period.
The Knicks made only 3 of 20 3-point shots as the Clippers’ defense continues its incremental improvement. They allowed only 80 points in Sunday’s win over Chicago.
“It’s definitely a sign that things are going in the right direction,” Paul said. “But we also played against two teams that sort of just come down throw it to a guy and stuff like, that so it’s not as up-tempo and fast but it’s definitely a good sign. You still have to defend against those teams.”
On Saturday, the Clippers built a 20-point first-half lead but found themselves having to battle back from a five-point deficit in the final three minutes before beating Sacramento, 103-102. Sunday, it was a runaway.
“Our defense was pretty good today,” Chris Paul said. “We held them to 39 percent shooting, we ran them off the 3-point line as much as possible but the other thing was we ran, we got out in transition.”
And the memory of the previous day lingered, Jamal Crawford added.
“When you have the opportunity to play the very next night, it’s fresh in your mind,” he said. “So you can work on things you did wrong yesterday.”
Jared Dudley might have had his best shooting game of the season with his 21-point effort, but he is also winning praise for the way he fits in defensively with the Clippers.
Coach Doc Rivers noticed that about Dudley when he played for Phoenix and was surprisingly effective matching up against Paul Pierce of the Celtics.
“He’s crafty,” Rivers said. “I used to look at him at Phoenix and there were certain games he gave Paul problems and I didn’t understand how that was possible. But he’s just a crafty defender. He’s just kind of in the right place.”
Dudley, who has battled tendinitis this season, has simply been doing his homework.
“What I try to do is position defense,” he said. “I know what guys like to do. I’m not so much going to block your shot or get a lot of steals. Usually, every team has a defensive concept where they know where their help is. I know where my help is, I try to send them to the help or use angles or the sideline when it comes to quicker guards on the baseline.”
Another veteran not used to hearing praise for his defense is Jamal Crawford. But he won that praise from Rivers Sunday.
“Jamal had three crack-backs tonight defensively and two of them created turnovers,” Rivers said. “That’s unbelievable. From a coaching standpoint, it’s nice when guys are hugging him on the bench because of a defensive play. That warms my heart.”
Finally, an Antawn Jamison sighting.
On Sunday, Jamison’s 16 th NBA season officially got underway when Coach Doc Rivers sent him into the game late in the first quarter of the Clippers’ 15 th game of the season.
When the Clippers’ 121-82 win over Chicago at Staples Center was complete, Jamison had logged 15 minutes, made 4 of 8 shots, scored 11 points, hit a 3-pointer and had three rebounds.
“He hasn’t played for 14 games and he came in tonight and stretched the floor immediately,” forward Blake Griffin said of Jamison. “He missed a couple early, but obviously he’s getting into the flow. His experience, his voice out there is huge for us. It kind of gives us a little bit of a calming factor.”
Jamison, who had offseason wrist surgery after one season with the Lakers, has been held back a bit by Rivers, who will turn to the veteran in select situations.
“I have just been holding him and I told him two days ago I was going to go to him in one of these two (weekend) games,” Rivers said. “But not in both, because I do not want him to play him in back-to-back games. I just chose to play him tonight, no science in that.”
Whenever Jamison is used, he figures to become a staple in the second unit that is headed by guards Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford.
“He’s great,” Rivers said. “He fits that unit so well because with Jamal able to score and DC’s speed, an extra shooter is a terrific fit for that group. Moving forward I will try to use him, except in back-to-back games.”
His presence was felt immediately by his teammates.
“I was happy for Antawn,” Chris Paul said. “I played a lot with Antawn in practice and watched him over the years. He’s one of those guys who’s just a pro. He works out every day, he’s going to be ready whenever Coach calls his name and that’s what he did.”
The Clippers were ready for and wary of a proud opponent accustomed to dealing with adversity.
It might not have mattered who was across the Staples Center court from them on Sunday.
In their fourth game in five days, the Clippers had plenty of legs left to shoot their way to a 121-82 victory over Chicago, which played its first game after former MVP Derrick Rose injured his knee.
Not only did the five starters make 69 percent of their shots, the Clippers paid a little more attention on defense after building a 13-point halftime lead. All five starters were on the bench for the entire fourth quarter.
“It was the imperfect storm in some ways because there was no Rose,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But I thought our defensive energy tonight was fantastic. We were sharp offensively, we were making shots and moving the ball.
“This was the most active our hands were defensively. It was yesterday’s game in the first quarter for four quarters.”
The 39-point rout was the largest winning margin in franchise history, erasing 37-point wins set in 1978 and 1975.
Rose will undergo surgery for a right knee meniscus injury on Monday and could be lost for the season for a second consecutive year.
“Obviously they’ve had to deal with losing (Rose), which is a huge part of their team,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. “The thing about their team is and their coaching staff is they know how to deal with that. They have an identity. They’re going to play hard every night, they’re going to be effective.”
Instead, the Clippers unleashed their arsenal, starting with the outside shooting of Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick. Dudley hit four 3-pointers and scored a season-high 21 points and Redick made 8 of 11 shots for 19 points.
Blake Griffin added 15 points and 12 rebounds and Paul, a day after he was held under 10 assists for the first time this season, had 16 points and 17 assists.
“It makes it so much easier just because you have to worry about those guys,” Griffin said of Dudley and Redick. “Coming off a screen, even in transition, I don’t know how many J.J. and Jared got just in transition. . . . It puts a lot of stress on the defense, allows (DeAndre Jordan) and I to set screens and then facilitate that way.
“Even not hitting shots you can put pressure on a defense just by the movement they have in our offense and their presence alone.”
The Clippers (10-5) shot 63.6 percent in the first quarter, 61.1 percent in the second quarter and after a 57.1 percent third quarter held a 96-73 lead. Then the reserves held the Bulls (6-6) to nine
points in the final period.
“We know what our defense is capable of,” Paul said. “We’ve been saying it for a while. Some nights it doesn’t look like it, but we know where to be. We were all on a string tonight, where one guy got beat, another guy helped. This is the blueprint for us.
“That’s huge for our team. This was our fourth game in five nights. We could have come in with a lot of excuses, but we did what we were supposed to do.
The Bulls, who reached the 2013 Eastern Conference semifinals without Rose, looked a little shell-shocked this time around. In addition to missing Rose, they were without swingman Jimmy Butler, who is sidelined by a toe injury.
Luol Deng led the Bulls with 22 points and Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer had 14 apiece. Chicago made only 4 of 25 shots in the final period.
“Obviously we’re disappointedf as a team,” Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. “We all feel for (Rose). We’ve been through this, we’ve been through a lot as a team. We’ve got a lot of guys that have seen a lot in their careers.”
Antawn Jamison made his season debut for the Clippers and scored 11 points and Darren Collison had 14 points and five assists in a 48-point barrage from the reserves.
Dudley has been a starter all season but has struggled through tendinitis in his knee. And now he’s beginning to become settled in his new environment.
“For me personally, the same shots I had tonight I had through all season,” said Dudley, who made 8 of 10 shots. “I’m a little more confident and getting in a little better groove.
“My thing was if I couldn’t hurt the team, then I was going to try and keep playing. . . Times have been tough and other times I’ve felt good, so it’s been up and down.”
It was a matchup to savor. The return of Derrick Rose to Los Angeles after missing all of last season with a knee injury, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers vs. his former assistant. Tom Thibodeau.
Except it will instead be the Clippers vs. the Bulls minus Rose, who injured his meniscus in his right knee Friday night and is out indefinitely.
Rivers and the Clippers spent time Saturday sending well-wishes to Rose. It hit home for Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who knows a thing or two about dealing with multiple knee issues.
“I feel bad for him,” Griffin said. “You never want to see anyone go down. Obviously I’ve experienced a couple knee injuries, including meniscus. The good news is it’s not nearly as bad as the one he just went through, so we wish him the best.”
Rose missed all of last season after tearing his left ACL in the 2012 playoffs.
“Mine wasn’t as close (together) as his but I think it almost helps you a little bit,” Griffin said. “You have that mindset of ‘OK, I just did this.’ As long as mentally he’s good and ready to get back to it, that rehab process is somewhat familiar. A lot of times if you go through rehab and you take your time, you can come back a little bit stronger. Hopefully that’s the approach he takes.
“I tore my menisicus in college, had surgery on a Sunday and played on a Saturday. It depends on obviously how bad it is and how much they have to repair it. If they don’t repair it, it’s obviously less invasive, less time out.”
It was the second game in two days on the road, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers wants his team to develop the mindset that that can be a two-win proposition.
Or how about four games in five days? The Clippers play that fourth game Sunday against Chicago.
“I totally forgot that this was a four in five until after the game Jamal Crawford mentioned it,” Chris Paul said. “I was trying to figure out why I was feeling the way I did.
“It’s mental, too and it shows how . . . you’ve got to push through. Every team goes through it. We talked about it before the season started – that’s how the teams get the first and second seed in the Western and Eastern conference, because on those days they suck it up.”
But after falling to Oklahoma City by 14 points on Thursday, Rivers just couldn’t let the defeat slide. He was tempted to simply look forward to the two weekend games at home.
“It’s funny,” Rivers said. “I probably move on four times a year where I say I’m not watching this game and I almost did it. Unfortunately, yesterday they had the day off. So after I did my Sacramento preparation and my Chicago preparation, I had too much time left in the day so I went back and watched the game and I’m glad I actually watched it.”
He lamented the fact that the Clippers missed two wide open 3-point tries to start the game, and how that might have set the tone. As it turned out, the Clippers had to spend the day trying to make up a deficit and eventually ran out of steam.
Rivers has also noticed the next big step his team must make defensively. It’s not about scoring or field goal percentage allowed.
“For me, the biggest part is we have not become that team where if you need a stop, we’re going to get a stop,” Rivers said. “That’s what we have to become. I don’t even care what the percentages are. When we become that team, that’s the team I want to become.”
Chris Paul pointed out that facing Sacramento is like facing two different teams.
The Kings could have said the same thing about the Clippers Saturday.
The Clippers stormed to a big lead with a stout defensive effort, then disappeared for half the game before recovering and surviving the final seconds for a 103-102 victory at Staples Center.
“It’s actually kind of fitting that we won the game with a defensive stop because we’ve been trying to get better defensively,” Paul said. “So hopefully that gave us some confidence.”
Well, it gave them a victory when DeAndre Jordan closed out on DeMarcus Cousins and bothered his 16-foot jump just enough for it to come up short at the buzzer. What the Clippers are still trying to cope with is finding that defensive formula and sticking to it and not allow a 20-point lead turn into a five-point deficit.
But they found a way to turn the game into their favor in the final 3 minutes and captured victory on Paul’s free throw with 2.5 seconds left broke a 102-102 tie.
Paul, who also hit a tying 3-pointer with 1:29 left as the shot clock reached :00, led the Clippers with 22 points and nine assists, with his double-double streak ending at an NBA-record 13 games to start the season.
Jordan had 17 points and 12 rebounds, Blake Griffin overcame a tough shooting day for 16 points and 10 rebounds, and J.J. Redick added 15 points for the Clippers (9-5), who face Chicago today for their fourth game in five days.
Cousins led the Kings (4-8) with 23 points and 19 rebounds. Isaiah Thomas (22 points) and Patrick Patterson (21 points) came off the bench to spark Sacramento’s comeback.
Between a 40-20 lead and the final moments, though, the Clippers realize there is still some work to be done defensively.
“I always think that when you get a big lead, the only way you maintain the lead is with your defense,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I think 90 percent of the players in the league think ‘Now if we can just keep scoring’ . . . instead of understanding that if you can get the stops, the frustration alone will take you to (a 30-point lead). So it’s a good lesson for us.”
Instead, it appeared it was the Clippers getting flustered as their lead was whittled away by the play the 6-foot-11 Cousins and 5-9 reserve guard Isaiah Thomas.
It didn’t help that Sacramento took the lead with 8:06 left in the game and only seconds later, Redick was speeding in for a fastbreak layup. The Kings’ Travis Outlaw grabbed Redick from behind by the shoulder and yanked him down awkwardly, earning a flagrant foul 2 and an automatic ejection.
“It was the right call,” Rivers said. “I don’t think Outlaw is a dirty player, despite his last name.”
While the officials were reviewing the call, Griffin sat on the scorer’s table with 8:06 left in the game and kicked it a couple times.
With 3:19 to go, Griffin was called for a technical foul. Thomas made the free throw and the Kings had a 94-89 lead.
“It’s a mental thing,” Griffin said. “You have to stay locked in, you have to be prepared to really stay on yourself and not allow your team and not allow yourself to get loose and relax.
“I feel like it was more on us. They played well in the second half, hit some shots, they hit shots ion the second quarter. I felt like it was on us. We relaxed too much. I thought we were careless at times. I was.”
After his 3-pointer, Paul drove for a basket with 1:04 left for a 100-98 lead, but Thomas answered with two free throws. Paul then sent a bounce pass down the lane that Griffin turned into a dun, but Thomas came back with two more free throws and it was 102-102 with 24.2 seconds left.
Paul picked up a screen from Redick and drove to his right to earn the tiebreaking free throw.
“It’s good experience, you’re going to have games like that but we shouldn’t have put ourselves in that situation to begin with,” Griffin said. “Being in that situation and showing the resolve that we did, getting the stops when we needed it, getting buckets when we needed, was good.”
The rest of the time?
“Our defense in the first quarter our energy was great,” Paul said. “But that team over there is like two totally different teams with Isaiah Thomas in the game and not in the game. When he’s not in the game, a lot of times they play through Cousins. When he’s in the game, they run one play – pick and roll – and it’s tough because he’s a great player.”
The Clippers’ real rivalry is renewed with the team they’ve battled in the playoffs the last two seasons, with the Clippers winning in seven games in the 2012 first round and Memphis advancing in six games last season.
The Clippers might have a new coach and some new players in the mix but they’re sure any game against the Grizzlies will be a heated one.
“The new players are not naïve,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. “They have television and watched the playoffs. We have a new team that plays a little bit different so it’s going to be interesting to see how the game goes, because it’s a big game game for us. We have been pretty good here at home and we have to keep it that way.”
The Clippers (7-3) have won four games in a row overall and are 5-0 at home. They are averaging 118.6 points at home. The Grizzlies went into Sunday giving up an average of only 97.9 points per game.
DeAndre Jordan is third in the league in rebounding at 13.2 per game and is earning his keep focusing on defense the way Coach Doc Rivers envisioned.
“He’s been terrific,” Rivers said. “I think he’s been frustrated at times that everyone hasn’t caught on like him (defensively) at times and that’s something we tell him – you just keep doing your job and everybody will follow suit. He’s had an impact in every game with his defense.”
Before taking on a Brooklyn Nets team that was missing four starters, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he’s still learning about his team.
They had to start with the obvious Saturday night. Blake Griffin can dominate and J.J. Redick can shoot.
That helped save the Clippers from a load of embarrassment. The duo fueled a rally in the third quarter that pushed them to a 110-103 win over the Nets at Staples Center.
Griffin, shaking off a third-quarter foot injury, had 30 points and 12 rebounds and Redick hit five 3-pointers and added 26 points and the Clippers finally dispatched depleted Brooklyn.
Chris Paul extended his double-double streak to 10 games by getting 12 points and 13 assists, though he made only 3 of 12 shots.
Now, why did the Clippers need to rally against a team playing without Paul Pierce (groin strain), Kevin Garnett (sprained right ankle), Deron Williams (sprained left ankle) and Brook Lopez (sprained left ankle)? How did they fall as many points behind as 11 in that third quarter?
“It was something we talked about. I heard three or four guys talking about it in the locker room before Doc came and started his pregame speech,” Griffin said. “Then we talked about it in the pregame speech. And we talked about it on the court so I can’t say that it was one of those things where they took us by surprise.
“It didn’t. I was well aware and everyone else was well aware this is kind of a trap. Obviously we’ll take the win but we’ve got to get better.”
Rivers was taking timeouts to stop Nets runs, and then Griffin came down hobbling and had to go to the locker room to inspect his injury.
Griffin went down without contact with what the Clippers said was a foot injury.
“It just scared me not knowing exactly what it was, or what that feeling was,” Griffin said. “I haven’t felt that before. But I can put full weight on it without an unbearable amount of pain so it should be good.”
Paul was a little more alarmed.
“It scared me, made me nervous,” he said. “I need him like none other so I was glad to see he was OK.”
The fact that Griffin went down by himself threw a scare into Rivers.
“Whenever no one is around, those are the real injuries,” Rivers said. “It’s amazing, you can run into somebody at a million miles an hour and you’re rarely hurt. But when you see someone go down and no one is there, then you’re scared.
“That means your body has just decided that you didn’t want to play anymore.”
The Clippers, who are making a habit out of big runs in the third quarter, finally found some rhythm.
“Sometimes you come out and play great, sometimes you don’t,” Rivers said. “We clearly didn’t have the energy. In the second half Chris turned his energy up. Our pace was bad offensively and defensively. We turned it on and won the game so I’m happy about that, because it’s hard to not have it on and then turn it on. At least we did that.”
Rivers chuckled when he he pointed out the deficiencies and then saw some of his favorite statistics. The Clippers were still able to shoot 51.9 percent, score 110 points and limit Brooklyn to 42.4 percent shooting.
Jamal Crawford added 13 points and Byron Mullens was 4-for-4 from the field with two 3-pointers for 10 points and DeAndre Jordan had 16 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Redick hit two 3-pointers and scored 10 points in the third period and Griffin had 23 points and six rebounds at that point. They were the keys to a 16-0 run that turned the game around, though the Clippers held only a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Before the game, Rivers was asked if it was harder for a coach to learn about his new team, or for the team to learn about their new coach.
“I’m not sure which one is easier,” he said. “A coach has to learn everybody and the players just have to learn one. I guess you can look at it that way.
“I’m learning them still and I think they probably have a better understanding of me before I have it of them would be my guess. I don’t know that. I’m still earning a lot of stuff about our guys and hopefully that will make me a better coach.
Both factions were set up to learn plenty after the likes of Andray Blatche (19 points) and Mason Plumlee (19 points off the bench) sparked the Nets, who had six players reach double figures.