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.”