After road-trip struggles, Clippers getting back on track defensively

Austin Rivers

Austin Rivers/Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Clippers


Much had been made of the improving defense of the L.A. Clippers. Then the Clippers hit the road for five games beginning March 15 at San Antonio and allowed an average of 110 points while going 1-4 against the Spurs, Houston (the win), Memphis, New Orleans and Golden State.

The Clippers (46-27) have done well to right that ship over the past three games, allowing an average of just 91.3 points in victories over Portland, Denver and Boston.

Backup guard Austin Rivers led the Clippers with 16 points in Monday’s 114-90 rout of Boston at Staples Center. After the game, he said it about as well as it can be said.

“After that last road trip where we dropped a couple of games, we came home and we knew we had to get our defense right,” he said. “You can see how much that leads to better offense as well, just us defending.

“It has to be something that we do consistently and something that is a part of our identity in order for us to compete and beat the teams like the Spurs, Warriors and (Oklahoma City) Thunder in the playoffs.”

The leader of the pack has been DeAndre Jordan, who had three more blocked shots Monday after coming through with six the day before during a 105-90 win over Denver. Keep in mind that Jordan and the rest of the starters did not play in the fourth quarter of either game.

“My job is to play with defensive energy for this team, so any time I can do that it becomes contagious for the rest of the guys,” Jordan said. “We have a lot of energy guys, so they respond well when we pick up the intensity.”

Coach Doc Rivers was talking about Jordan’s defensive presence after Monday’s victory and recalled a conversation he had a a day earlier with Denver coach Mike Malone.

“Mike Malone was just telling me, ‘It’s amazing how many times guys just stop driving because he’s around, which you don’t see reflected in the stats,’” Doc Rivers said. “With his energy, his activity, and his voice – he is the loudest player on our team with his talk – he has taken another step defensively this year and he has been good for us.”

Five things to take from Clippers’ 105-90 victory over Denver

Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers, right, shoots as Denver Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic, of Bosnia, defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 27, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 105-90.

Austin Rivers, right, of the Clippers tries to get a shot up over Denver’s Jusuf Nurkic during Sunday’s game at Staples Center/AP photo by Mark J. Terrill


– The top news out of this game is what took place before it started. That’s when the Clippers declared Blake Griffin healthy and ready to play, meaning he started his four-game suspension and now just has to sit out three more before he can return next Sunday when the Clippers host the Washington Wizards at 12:30 p.m. at Staples Center.

DeAndre Jordan had another ferocious showing. He scored a team-high 16 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked six shots in 29 minutes. “Yeah, he’s been terrific,” coach Doc Rivers said post-game. Denver coach Mike Malone called Jordan “one of the better rim protectors in the NBA.” Jordan did have five turnovers, which is rare.

Jeff Green had a nice game off the bench, scoring 13 points on 6 of 13 shooting. He also had six rebounds, two steals, a block and zero turnovers in 29 1/2 minutes.

– Then there was Wes Johnson. He has struggled with his shot, as we have recently noted. In a candid interview with this newspaper Saturday before practice, Johnson said it was something he wanted to shoot his way out of, and this was a good start. Johnson scored 13 points off the bench and made 5 of 6 from the field, 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

– Not that the Clippers (45-27) celebrated, but they did clinch a playoff berth with this win. Afterward, coach Rivers said no one on the team even realized it, and he liked that. Obviously, clinching a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive season is a good thing. But it will only remain as such if the Clippers can find a way to get out of the Western Conference semifinals for the first time in franchise history. Right now, their first-round matchup is shaping up to be against the Memphis Grizzlies. The second round – the conference semifinals – would be against the defending-champion Golden State Warriors.