On a three-game win streak, the highest-scoring team in the league takes to the road for its first significant trip of the season. And it doesn’t hurt heading out onto the road with a 137-118 win over Houston under the Clippers’ belt.
“It helps,” Coach Doc Rivers said after the win over the Rockets. “This was an important game. You didn’t want to go on this trip having lost and having to (the Rockets) again at their place.” After facing the Magic (2-2), the Clippers will face Miami Thursday and Houston Saturday before returning for a four-game homestand.
After shooting 52.1 percent against Houston, the Clippers (3-1) are shooting 50.3 as a team. All five starters are shooting 50 percent or higher.
Chris Paul (26.5 points per game, 13.3 assists) has had a double-double in all four games. . . . Of course, the Clippers are trying to sort out their defense. “We have a ways to go defensively,” guard J.J. Redick said. “I think we’re feeling more and more comfortable in our half-court defense. We’re starting to really understand some stuff.”
Orlando started 0-2 but has rebounded with lopsided wins over After easily beating New Orleans (110-90) on Friday, Orlando downed Brooklyn, 107-86) Sunday. Former USC standout Nikola Vucevic had 19 points and 12 rebounds in the latter game. . . . This will be the Clippers’ first look at rookie Victor Oladipo, who is averaging 13.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4 assists and scored 19 against the Nets.
The highest-scoring team in the NBA came to the bench after the first quarter after scoring 42 points and building a 17-point lead.
And they were annoyed.
“Even thought we scored 42 in the first, we gave up 25,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “So instead of us being so happy we scored 42, we were upset about the 25. So it shows we’re focused on the right thing and going in the right direction.”
More like soaring in the right direction, and even if the defense remains a work in progress, they have the comfort in knowing that at times, the offense can be their defense.
That was on display Monday night when the Clippers never trailed in a 137-118 win over Houston in Dwight Howard’s return to Los Angeles. But from the outset, it was clear that this would be more than a battle in the paint.
It was the Clippers’ highest-scoring game since hitting 140 against the New York Knicks in 2009 and while they’re not exactly griping about the offensive output, they’re intent on shoring up the other end of the court.
In other words, a lot has changed since the early days of preseason camp when Coach Doc Rivers said the defense was ahead of the offense.
“I was delusional,” Rivers said, drawing laughs. “I think our defense is pretty good. It’s what’s getting our leads, then we break down. I thought early on we were scoring and getting stops, scoring and getting stops, and right now it seems when we get that lead, we kind of break down in our focus.”
Howard was booed continuously by Clippers fans until he picked up his third foul in the first quarter and left the game to cheers. He didn’t play the rest of the half.
It started with J.J. Redick scoring 15 of his season-high 26 points in the first quarter and then turned into another showcase for Paul, who had 23 points and 17 assists as the Clippers (3-1) handed the Rockets (3-1) their first loss of the season.
“The guy can shoot the basketball. It’s unbelievable,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said of Redick. “The best part about playing with him is he never stops moving. He’s not one of those guys who spots up in the corner and that’s all he does. He’s constantly moving, cutting, misdirection or running off three screens. That’s how he gets his shots. He really works for them.
“He’s going to be great for us.”
The Clippers had had six players reach double figures and backup center Byron Mullens added nine. Jamal Crawford had 21 points, Griffin had 18 points and seven rebounds and Jared Dudley had 15 points.
Center DeAndre Jordan finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Houston also had six players in double figures but had subpar games from James Harden (15 points on 6-for-16 shooting) and Howard, who had 13 points and nine rebounds. Howard entered the game averaging a league-best 17 rebounds.
Omri Casspi had 19 points off the bench for the Rockets and Chandler Parsons and Francisco Garcia each had 14 points.
“It’s funny – we haven’t held a team under 100 yet in four games, and I promise you our defense is better than it looks,” Paul said. “I think what has to be better is our transition defense. If you look at us now, if we get back and get set, we have our principles there, we’re relying on each other but it’s in spurts.
“It’s going to get better. It’s a process. It’s nice to learn and win.”
The Clippers had four players in double figures by halftime – and Jamal had nine at that point – and their 78-point outburst was the most in club history for a half since moving to Los Angeles. The San Diego Clippers scored 87 in a half against Utah in 1984.
But they only led by 12 against the 3-point happy Rockets, who got a boost from Casspi off the bench. He hit three 3-pointers in the first half to help keep the Rockets, who trailed by as many as 17, within striking distance.
Led by Dudley’s three 3-pointers, the Clippers hit 15 for the game and held Houston to 7-for-24 from distance.
And to think Rivers’ No. 1 concern heading into the game was the frontcourt duo of the 6-foot-11 Howard and 7-0 Omer Asik.
“They’re big. They’re huge,” Rivers said. “They don’t play that way the whole game but it presents a major problem. When they start their five and then they start their (reserve) five, that’s a problem.
“We have to rebound as a team, we have to gang rebound and we have to create a pace tonight because if we get in to their pace it will be a tough night.”
The Clippers now head out on the road for three games to play Orlando, Miami and Houston.
DeAndre Jordan didn’t have to tangle with Dwight Howard too much in the first half because Howard picked up three first-quarter fouls.
The tougher assignment of the night, however, figured to be J.J. Redick against James Harden, but Rivers liked his player’s chances.
“J.J.’s tough. He’s just a tough kid,” Rivers said. “Harden is tough for everybody to guard so you’re never worried about the great players that much, because they’re great. If they were easy to guard or you could stop them, they wouldn’t be great. It took me a long time to figure that one out.
“What you have on the average nights, those are the nights you have to stand out defensively. Nights like tonight, you have to try to contain as much as possible. But Harden is a terrific player.”
In the first half alone, Redick went for a season-high 19 points. Harden had 10 points and made only 4 of 12 shots.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale, like everyone else, knows the rather dismal history of the Clippers. That doesn’t mean he applies any of it to the current product.
“I’ve never understood what somebody who did something 15 years ago (means anything) and these guys have never met,” McHale said. “They say ’15 years ago the Clippers did this.’ I’m like 15 years ago, these guys were like 9. They don’t care. Culture change is really about what you’ve got going right now and right now they have great culture.”
Not to mention a few good parts to work with.
“They’ve got guys here to do it,” McHale said. “Chris Paul’s is as good as it gets with the ball in his hands in our league. He’s a great leader, Doc’s proven, won a championship.”
Dwight Howard is back at Staples Center, this time as a member of the Houston Rockets, and a lot is being made of his matchup with emerging center DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers.
But Clippers coach Doc Rivers is much more concerned with the Clippers vs. the Clippers in the season’s fourth game.
After three games, the Clippers have committed 50 turnovers, and it’s not just the amount that concerns Rivers. It’s when they occur and how they affect transition defense, and when you combine them with second-chance points, opponents are getting too many easy opportunities.
The Clippers’s coaching staff estimates the Clippers are giving up 46 points in such situations.
“If you’re giving up 46 points a game on second shots and turnovers, you can be the ’85 Bears and you’re still going to struggle defensively,” Rivers said. “It’s killing us. It’s creating awful matchups. If you can get back and get matched up to your guy, you have a chance of guarding people.
“If you’re turning the ball over and you’re creating mismatches in transition, at some point something bad’s going to happen and it’s happening.”
What hurts the most is the Clippers’ turnovers are happening on the fly.
“We’re having live turnovers. Maybe it’s just a thing right now,” Rivers said. “We don’t mind a dead-ball turnover; you can set your defense. Right now for whatever reason, in the three games most of our turnovers are live-ball turnovers, which you can’t recover from.”
They survived the 38-point onslaught of Stephen Curry, who had 38 points and hit nine 3-pointers. They shut down Klay Thompson, who scored 38 on Wednesday but had only seven shots.
They didn’t back down and they kept their composure at the same, and the Clippers rolled to a 126-115 win over Golden State in their home opener at Staples Center Thursday.
Chris Paul simply took over with his 42 points – one shy of his career high – along with 15 assists and six steals. No one has recorded a line like that in the NBA since 1985-86.
“He was awesome,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought he did a good job running the team and demanding guys get into their sets. I thought that was important for us.”
In an emerging rivalry, the clubs did have one dust-up in the second quarter. Golden State center Anderw Bogut fouled DeAndre Jordan hard for a foul, and then the two exchanged shoves and picked up technical fouls.
“Both teams want to go somewhere,” Rivers said. “Golden State was so close last year to winning the title. We just want to jump into that category. Both teams had an urgency about it. I liked the intensity.
“When nothing sidetracks you and just keep playing, that’s what I was proud of. When we got the lead and all of a sudden things started getting chippy, we were able to keep our composure and keep playing. That’s a really good sign for us. That’s toughness.”
Blake Griffin had 23 points and 10 rebounds in a performance that Rivers called “dominant,” and J.J. Redick scored 17. Jordan had nine points and 17 rebounds to lead the Clippers to a 44-33 rebounding edge.
Jamal Crawford had 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Thursday marked the first time the Clippers have played Golden State since Jan. 21, when the Warriors scored a 106-99 victory to capture the season series, 3-1.
It also ended a contentious month in which the teams met three times. The first time was a 115-94 Warriors home win in which they outscored the Clippers in all four quarters.
Three days later and after a win over the Lakers, the rejuvenated Clippers scored a 115-89 win over visiting Golden State. The Clippers jumped out to a 35-12 after the first quarter and led, 103-66, heading into the final period.
“That game was different,” Rivers said. “There was something going on clearly in that game and you could see it. I asked the guys about it today and they all started laughing, so that was the answer. The spirit was different in that game. That’s what we have to get to every game.”
Playing the same opponent that close together doesn’t happen often in the NBA, but Rivers would like to see more of it.
“I wish we did that more in the league where we play them and then play them again the next night, like in baseball,” he said. “I love that because that second game is a monster and I love that. I think that’s fun.”
The next time the clubs play is on Christmas Day at Oracle Arena. The other two meetings are Jan. 30 and March 12.
After a day of sorting through the remnants of the Clippers’ opening night loss to the Lakers, Coach Doc Rivers might as well have quoted one of Chris Paul’s most favorite recent sayings:
“It’s a process.”
On both ends of the court, the Clippers clearly have not reached the stage where they’re thinking with their feet instead of their heads. He said he doesn’t mind which reaches that stage first, the offense or the defense, but said he preferred it would be the offense.
Then again, he stressed the defense the same he did since the day he arrived.
“Defensively, this is what I’ve learned: We can be really good, but we’re not at all yet,” Rivers said. “I look at our personnel and athleticism and I think we could be a really good defensive team. But as the game the other night showed, we’re such a long way away, and we’ve got to take the drill stuff to the floor.
“I actually went back and looked at our two practices previous and the coverages were great, the drills were great, everybody was in the right spot. Then the lights came on and we stopped doing it. If it does come, I think we can be a special team in that way.”
To Rivers, defense is not just effort that separates units. It’s learning the system, the players learning to trust each other, and all of the muscle memory and brain memory comes automatically.
“It used to be we always thought on defense all you have to do is play hard,” River said. I don’t believe that. You do have to do that, but if everybody played hard defensively, individually, you would not be a good defensive team. The biggest change in my thinking defensively is as much as you have to work on continuity on offense, you have to work that way on defense. Defense is continuity, It’s talking, being in the right place.
“The only way DeAndre Jordan can go to the opposite side when the big rolls is he knows for a fact and has the trust that someone has his back. When that happens it’s beautiful to watch. It’s not happening yet.”
And when does that happen?
“I don’t know,” he said. “When it happens, you’ll know it. You’ll see it. And the thing with both is it never stays. It goes, it comes back. That’s just part of it. I guess like a relationship.”
“That was way too deep,” River said with a laugh. “I’m sorry about that one.”
If the first game taught any lesson, it’s that the Clippers will have to learn that having a target on them might be a heavier burden than they might have imagined.
Coach Doc Rivers said afterward that when he coached the Celtics, it was before they won the NBA title that teams came after them with more vigor than after the Celtics were champs. In his mind, a team “anointed” to be a contender is more irksome than a champ.
“I thought this was going to be a brutally tough game. I kept saying it all week,” Rivers said. “That team heard for four or five months how good we are. I told our guys tonight we’re fighting human nature. That team is coming after you with everything they have. I don’t know if you can match that, and at the end of the day we did not.”
Jamal Crawford, who only days before said he hangs on every word Rivers delivers, said a little more in-depth understanding of Rivers’ words might be needed.
“He’s been there before, he has that credibility and he’s seen it all,” Crawford said/ “So I think the next time he says something like that we’ll take heed.”
Doc Rivers was asked if he saw a silver lining in the defeat. Doc Rivers saw only that the Clippers are 0-1.
“I’m not a believer in that,” he said. “I hear what you’re saying. I’ll find it on film if there’s a silver lining.”
And just like Jamal Crawford wanted to see the tape to believe his eyes, the video will get a lot more scrutiny from the coach.
“In the whole scheme of things, you’ve just got to keep getting better,” Rivers said. “We’re going to have a quick film session tomorrow that showed us breakdowns we had as a team and they took advantage of them, but a lot was created by us.”