Clippers coach Doc Rivers expected Jared Dudley and Eric Bledsoe to be extra amped for their first game against their former team.
“Usually both guys want to get back at their team, even though they liked their team,” Rivers said. “Bled loved it here and Dud loved it in Phoenix. Having said that, it’s that competitive part of each athlete that makes them who they are. It tends to go well for both, usually.
“We’re hoping it goes well for Dud and not for Bled but no doubt your energy is high when you’re playing. I’ve had a couple of those games as a player and you want to play well, I can tell you that.”
Bledsoe was greeted by scores of familiar faces as he strode past the Clippers locker room before the game. He paid tribute to Chris Paul
“When we first traded for him he helped me out from day one,” Bledsoe said. “It’s going to feel like practice again. We know we have to do what we have to do to help our team win.”
Also, Clippers assistant Alvin Gentry is a former Suns coach before the club fired him.
“Yeah, but he can’t score,” Rivers said, smiling. “He could score when he was young. As a coach, you want to win the game, don’t get me wrong. You face your old team, you want to win the game but you have no control over that one. You hope that the players sense that and they want to to win it for them. But I’ve never heard of the player winning for the coach speech yet.”
Eric Bledsoe was in town to face his former team for the first time since the Clippers traded the guard over the summer to the Phoenix Suns.
There was a chance, though, that Bledsoe could have remained a Clipper, even working alongside Chris Paul. Instead, new coach Doc Rivers weighed the options and sent Bledsoe to Phoenix in a three-team deal that netted the Clippers J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.
“I really liked him. I thought he fit a lot of stuff that I do, especially defensively,” Rivers said. “But after sitting down and looking at our books — you’ve got to try and look at your value. If you don’t think you’re going to keep a guy, when is his value the highest?
“Then you have to look at your team and figure out what helps your team in the long run? We clearly lost in the playoffs because we lacked shooting, not because we lacked athleticism. All of those things had to go into that very difficult choice.”
Bledsoe, Paul’s understudy, entered the game averaging 18.4 points and 5.9 assists per game in his first year as a starter. Ironically, Darren Collison, now Paul’s backup, gave up a starting role to join the Clippers.
“He was ready to be a starter, there’s no doubt,” Rivers said of Bledsoe. “We really had only one talk, and I talked to his representatives and they made that very clear. And if it wasn’t starting, it was playing a lot of minutes. That could have happened here, I just didn’t know if it was going to happen here, and I don’t know if he would have been happy or not.
“I think he’s a great kid. I think he would have handled it, but it would have been no fun.”
Paul, a close friend, agreed.
“He’s doing it all right now and I think one of the things about Bled too is how hard he works,” Paul said. This summer was a big summer for him when the trade happened. We used to talk about it all the time. He’s said all the time he’s not a backup in this league, he’s a starter and I think he’s proven that so far.”
How hot is Blake Griffin? In the week of Dec. 16-22, he earned player of the week honors by averaging 26 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in four games. He also went 35-for-40 (87.5 percent) from the free-throw line. In the three games since, Griffin has averaged 31.7 points, 11.7 rebounds has shot 57.1 percent from the field and 78.6 percent from the free throw line.
“His confidence right now is pretty high, and rightfully so” Chris Paul said. “It’s great to see how he’s dominating the game whether it’s jump shots or in the post or on the free-throw line. It’s fun to watch.”
Griffin scored a season-high 40 points Saturday as the Clippers held off Utah.
The Clippers (21-11) enter Monday’s game with Phoenix game with only a 1 1/ 2-game lead over the Suns (18-11), who have won eight of their last 10 and are reaping dividends from the deal that sent Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers to Phoenix in the deal that brought Jared Dudley to the Clipppers. Bledsoe, Paul’s understudy with the Clippers, is averaging 18.4 points 5.9 assists and 1.5 blocks per game.
“I’m excited,” Paul said of the matchup. “I text Bled all the time, even now during the season when I’m watching him play on League Pass, some of the big games he’s had. It’s going to be fun to tell you the truth because Bled is unbelievable right now, and he’s better now than last year, playing with a lot of confidence.”
Don’t count on Coach Doc Rivers for injury updates because he pays no attention until the medical staff gives the word that a certain player is ready.
When asked about the progress of rookie forward Reggie Bullock, who is out with a sprained ankle, Rivers responded: “Who?”
And Rivers wasn’t sure if J.J. Redick (wrist) had begun shooting yet. In fact, Rivers met with Redick before Saturday’s game and the two chatted about just about everything but the shooting star’s health.
Bullock is still recovering from his high ankle sprain and Redick remains weeks away, though he has the post-surgical splint of his right hand.
“I joke with (Bullock) and say it’s the longest sprained ankle injury in the history of the NBA,” Rivers said, smiling. “You don’t want that title. But he’s trying. It was a bad ankle sprain, really bad. Today I know he shot. Other than that, I don’t really know.”
Backup center Ryan Hollins missed Monday’s game for personal reasons, the club said.
Coach Doc Rivers was asked if the Clippers were the type of the team that could get under the skin of the other team on the court.
“:I noticed that last year. We probably talk,” Rivers said, “I don’t know what the hell’s going on out there. I really don’t.
“We’ve just got to keep playing. I hate when we get distracted by it. I think we’re getting better but that’s an area we still have to improve in. We’re getting better also at leaving the officials alone and playing. We still have to get better there.”
As if to prove that point, less than two minutes into the second quarter DeAndre Jordan picked up his third foul. And a technical foul.
Less than five minutes later, Rivers picked up a technical of his own.
And at the end of the first half, the Clippers were less than thrilled that it was ruled that Kevin Love was fouled by Blake Griffin while trying to beat the buzzer with a long shot. Griffin got his third foul and Love made all three free throws.
Recently, the talk of the Clippers’ defense has started with the almost fanatical way DeAndre Jordan has embraced his role as the defensive captain.
“It starts with our bigs. DJ and Blake (Griffin) have been amazing,” Coach Doc Rivers said. “DJ’s leadership defensively – It’s funny, he’s mad the most on defense now, which I love because he takes it so personal when anybody scores.
“Earlier in the year I thought he took it personally when his guy scored. Now he’s taking it personal if a guy’s making a 3 on the opposite side of the floor.
“That’s what you need to take scoring personal and I think our guys are starting to do that.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers was still raving about the defensive effort the Clippers gave in their 112-91 victory over Denver on Saturday.
But even more impressive to Rivers was it represented the fourth consecutive games the Clippers held an opponent to fewer than 100 points in a game.
“I do like the trend,” Rivers said. “I think we’ve been trending that way for a while defensively and it’s nice. My belief is you can play defense every night, offense you can try to play every night but it might not work out for you. You can miss open shots and just have a bad night, but your defense should always be there. At least the effort.”
It’s not just at one end of the court, either. The Clippers limited Denver to six fastbreak points in addition to the Nuggets’ 35.7 percent shooting from the field.
“We’ve had the effort in my opinion all year we just weren’t in the right places all year and now we’re starting to get to the right places, the right spaces, and our talk defensively has been phenomenal. Our weak side defense has been improving.
“Last night was one of our better nights because Denver runs. Against them that saying a lot . We’re starting to obey our rules, which is nice.”
Opponents are noticing too. It didn’t surprise Minnesota coach Rick Adelman.
“They certainly had the tools to do that, they had the size with (DeAndre) Jordan, and they’re active, and Chris (Paul) has always been one of the better point guards defensively too. It’s just something that as they play more under Doc, they’ll continue to get better defensively.”
Chris Paul sat down, took a glance at the stat sheet and shook his head.
The line that followed DeAndre Jordan’s name held his gaze.
“Outstanding,” Paul said. “He was no question the MVP of this game tonight. We don’t win this game without his energy.”
Jordan had 14 points, 20 rebounds, 5 blocked shots, played 43 minutes and made all six of his shots as the Clippers negotiated their way through a flat game to score a 108-95 victory over New Orleans Wednesday at Staples Center.
“We were a little sluggish tonight,” Paul said. “You would have expected that in the Spurs game (Monday night) but it caught up with us tonight. You’ve got to push through.
“DJ kept telling us, ‘Come on, Come on.’ And we fed off it. I love what DJ’s doing. He’s the cornerstone of our defense, he rolls, he gets everybody open on the offensive end. I tell you, we should be seeing him in New Orleans come February if he keeps playing like that.”
That would be for an All-Star appearance for the 6-foot-11 center who was challenged to become a contender for Defensive Player of the Year by Coach Doc Rivers before the season started.
“Doc gave me a challenge early on in the summer, it’s something I’ve embraced and it’s fun to take on that challenge that he gave me,” Jordan said. “Our assistant coaches are great teachers and I’m learning every day and every game and I’m trying to improve.
“I’m just playing the role he wants me to play. I’m trying to be the best defender I can be for our team. If that happens then it happens but I’m taking on the challenge. It’s definitely a goal of mine (the top defensive player). I don’t want to win it just one time, I want to win it multiple times and it’s a process, and I’m taking my steps to become a better defensive player.”
Blake Griffin had 21 points and 10 rebounds and the Clippers (18-9) didn’t trail after the middle of the first quarter as they won for the 10th time in 12 home games and stretched their modest winning streak to three. It wasn’t as easy as it might have seemed.
“I was telling somebody in the locker room I was tired like two minutes into the game,” Griffin said. “I don’t know why, I guess it’s kind of that lag. But it was a good win for us and I was proud of the way we gutted it out.”
They picked up defensively where they left off against the Spurs, limiting the Pelicans (11-13) to 39.8 percent shooting from the floor. The Clippers led by as many as 19 points.
“We’ve leaned on our defense at times when we needed it and we’ve allowed our defense to get us into our offense and get our offense going,” Griffin said. “There was a stretch tonight where it seemed like we kind of missed a lot of shots in a row, but we stayed in the game and maintained our lead because of our defense.”
Jared Dudley had 20 points, Jamal Crawford added 17 and the Clippers got a combined 24 from Darren Collison and Wille Green off the bench. All of that meant a relatively quiet night from Chris Paul, who had 12 points and 11 assists. The Clippers never let the Pelicans to creep back into the game after they took over.
“We played pretty flat and maybe this was the day that the (seven-game) trip caught up with us,” Rivers said. “I thought DJ just single-handedly kept us in with his defense and his rebounding and everything else.
“I think he understands his role to the point where he accepts it and loves it. He’s become a star in his role and we need him to be a shot blocker, rebounder and a defender. What he’s shown is he’s still going to score by doing all that stuff and he got 14 points because of it.
Rivers had the rare opportunity to coach against his son, Austin, for the second time in their NBA careers.
“I actually didn’t like it,” Doc Rivers said. “Going against your own son, it’s no fun for you. When he has the ball as a parent you’re like ‘Don’t get hurt, don’t make a mistake, but turn the ball over.’ It’s tough.
“I don’t know what parent is going to cheer against his own kid.”
The Pelicans also pulled a bit of a surprise by activating Anthony Davis before the game. The star forward was expected to be out for a couple more weeks with a broken hand, but the club activated him just before tip-off.
In addition, guard Tyreke Evans also played. Evans was listed as day-to-day with a left ankle sprain. Neither started, but Davis had 24 points and 12 rebounds. He had missed seven games.
Ryan Anderson had 17 points and Jrue Holiday added 13 points for New Orleans.
Wednesday was the second time that Rivers coached against his son, Austin. He did it once last year in Boston and a night he thought he’d enjoy turned into a bit of torture.
He had a new attitude this time around.
“Well, I tell him to turn it over. To foul,” Rivers said with a laugh. “We talk in parameters on the day of. I’m not good at it. We haven’t practiced it enough. I try not to talk to him long. Like three minutes today. I tried to time my call right when I thought he was sleeping. Other than that, we’ll spend time after the game.
“I think it’s harder for me. I think it’s easy for him. Every son wants to beat their dad. He’s already one of the most competitive human beings I’ve met anywhere. I don’t think this is hard for him at all. I think it’s strange for him when he sees me over there.”
Rivers, though, said he would jump at the chance to use any inside knowledge to stop Austin and help the Clippers.
“Absolutely. Yeah, without hesitation,” he said. “I think it was (Rejon) Rondo last year asked the question. We’re about to go out and he goes, ‘I have one question for you, Coach. We’re up two, your son has the ball, he shoots a 3 with no time left. What’s your thoughts when the ball’s in the air?’
“So the whole team’s looking at me and I said ‘Win-win.’ I’m winning either way.”
After a slow start, the Clippers’ team defense has sneaked into a modest 12 th place in the league in terms of points allowed. Early in the season, the Clippers were close to being bottom dwellers.
“Just time,” Rivers said when asked what the reason was for the climb. “I was confident early on that our defense would come around. You could see it, then I kept saying that you know we’re (close).
“Now you can see the consistency in it and guys know now when they make a mistake, they know the mistake. That’s the next step. We have another level and that’s the next step.”
Rivers credits the help defense from forward Blake Griffin for one of the leaps the Clippers have made.
“A lot of people believe showing (help) is enough. We don’t,” Rivers said. “We believe the angle of the show on defense on pick-and-rolls (is important). His show angles the other night were the example of how far we’ve come. He was able to turn (Tony) Parker up the floor and get back to his guy underneath the basket over and over again.”