|BIG SECOND HALF HELPS CLIPPERS CRUISE PAST GOLDEN STATE IN SEASON OPENER – ERIC PATTEN|
The All-World point guard, making his Clippers debut, nailed three consecutive jumpers down the stretch to effectively ice the Golden State Warriors and lead Los Angeles to a 105-86 season-opening victory at Oracle Arena on Christmas Night.
Paul finished with 20 points and nine assists as the Clippers closed the fourth quarter on a 23-5 run, spoiling Golden State Head Coach Mark Jackson’s first game on the sideline.
After center Andris Biedrins dropped in a 6-footer from the lane to bring the Warriors within one, Clippers guard Mo Williams responded with a perimeter jumper to initiate the scoring outburst. Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups, who were also making their debuts with the Clippers, followed with a combined seven points before Paul took over.
“My coach [Vinny Del Negro] just kept telling me to be more aggressive,” Paul told ESPN after the game.
Clad in festive green socks and red shoes, L.A. (1-0) showed both why they’re considered one of the most exciting teams in the league and why they still have a long way to go before reaching their lofty expectations.
The team struggled defensively, were out-rebounded 48-43, missed 15 free throws, and shot 33-percent in the first half against one of the league’s most porous defenses last year. On the other hand, they maintained their high assist to turnover ratio (22-10), DeAndre Jordan blocked a career-high eight shots, superstar Blake Griffin scored a team-high 22 points with seven rebounds (five offensive), and much like the preseason the new-look Clippers took over after halftime, outscoring Golden State, 64-43.
Early on, though, the Clippers looked much like a unit that was still figuring out how to play together. Billups and Paul nailed 3-pointers from the wing on the first two possessions, but the Clippers struggled from the field for a majority of the first half. Billups, Paul, and Butler combined to shoot 4-for-20 with 17 first-half points.
Billups had 21 points on 6-of-19 shooting and 3-of-10 from beyond the arc.
The most encouraging stretch of the first half came following Del Negro’s timeout at the 7:11 mark in the first quarter. Trailing 12-6 at the time, the Clippers scored 16 of the next 20 points, highlighted by a layup from Griffin off a Butler steal and long advance pass and a fast-break alley-oop from Butler to Jordan.
Warriors reserve point guard Ishmael Smith snapped the run with a floater, but the Clippers still took a 24-20 lead into the second quarter.
Golden State (0-1) put together a 9-0 run in the second quarter and had a lead as large as nine points in the second half. But they could not take advantage of the Clippers cold shooting early and lost despite 21 points and 12 rebounds from forward David Lee.
Stephen Curry, playing with heavily taped right ankle, was held to four points on 2-of-12 shooting and high-scoring guard Monta Ellis managed just 15 points.
Another bright spot for the Clippers was their bench.
The play of the bench was particularly helpful during the second quarter, when the Clippers seemed to struggle the most.
In the third, however, the starters picked things up.
Butler, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds, was 3-of-5 in the quarter, including a baseline runner that would have won a game of H-O-R-S-E. As Butler drove baseline on Biedrins, he got bumped and while falling out of bounds tossed the ball over the backboard with his right hand for a the basket and the foul.
Later in the third, the Warriors fouled Jordan on four consecutive possessions. A career 41.4-percent shooter from the line, Jordan made 3-of-8 in the stretch. The score was 65-57 when Jackson employed the strategy and 68-60 when Clippers Head Coach Vinny Del Negro removed the center in favor of forward Ryan Gomes.
Paul ended the quarter with a jumper from the top to give the Clippers a seven-point lead, somewhat foreshadowing his scoring outburst that was yet to come.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak at Oracle Arena… The Warriors committed 32 fouls, leading to 38 Clippers free throw attempts… Del Negro played multi-guard lineups on several occasions, including deploying Williams, Billups, and Paul with combo-guard Randy Foye for a couple of minutes in the second half.