BENCH LOOKING TO REAFFIRM IDENTITY

Doc Rivers talks to back-up point guard, Darren Collison
Doc Rivers talks to back-up point guard Darren Collison

OKLAHOMA CITY – Injuries can have a ripple effect.

Take J.J. Redick, for example. The Clippers’ shooting guard has missed six games in a row with a bulging disc in his lower back and complications stemming from it. The loss of Redick has shifted Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford into the starting lineup, causing the reserve unit to lose the punch of the league’s best reserve scorer. And the bench has yet to be the same without him.

The group is scoring the second fewest points per game in the league since Redick went out, averaging 20.8 points in six games. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers says it is a challenge for the second unit without Crawford, who has averaged nearly 18 points in 37 games with the second unit, because of the pressure it puts on point guard Darren Collison to be the lone shot creator on the floor.

“Jamal’s with the first unit, it’s tough for [Collison] to carry our second unit,” Rivers said Saturday. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting at least one more offensive guy on the floor with him. I’ve got to do a better job with the second unit, getting the right guys on the floor.”

Crawford said, “Our team is built for me to come off the bench and be that guy off the bench. Right now, we’re a little bit undermanned and our second unit is kind of struggling a little bit. Hopefully, we can try and figure out something.”

That could mean changing substitution patterns to leave a starter or two on the floor with Collison, Jared Dudley and the rest of the reserves. However, Rivers ruled out the possibility of moving Crawford back to the bench until Redick, who is out indefinitely, returns.

“[There has been] no consideration of that,” Rivers said. “We need him right now as a starter because we need his firepower. Otherwise, they’re just going to load up on Blake [Griffin] and he won’t be able to do what he does with the starting unit. But we’ve got to get [Crawford] with the second unit as well.”

Dudley, who has come off the bench since Jan. 20 (15 games), thinks the injuries to Redick and Chris Paul, earlier in the year, has disrupted some of the bench’s chemistry. Lineups have fluctuated, particularly in the backcourt with Crawford starting 20 games in place of Redick and Collison starting 19 in place of Paul. 

“I think for us it’s chemistry, especially when it comes to the second unit,” Dudley said. “Darren Collison’s back in, but now J.J.’s hurt so Jamal’s starting. We’ve never really had our whole bench together. So, I think our second unit is something we’re going to have to improve very vastly and very quickly in the next [25] games.”

For Rivers, the lack of scoring production from the second unit is not a primary problem. After the Clippers lost 102-96 in Memphis Friday with the bench scoring just seven points, Rivers was adamant that changes needed to occur on the defensive end of the floor, not on offense.

“I’m not worried about the offense,” Rivers said. “Our offense is going to be fine. We’re going to get guys back. When you don’t score, you’ve got to get stops. Everybody loves the offense, but you’ve got to get stops to win a basketball game. If you’re struggling offensively, you better get stops. To me, our offense and misses took away from our defense and that can never happen.”

Collison agreed, saying he second unit should take on a defensive identity. 

“We have to continue to try and get stops with the second unit. We can’t just focus on the offensive end to get us going,” Collison said. “Sometimes the defensive end can get us going as well.

“I think we should rely on the defensive end. I think we’ve got a lot of offensive weapons in the first unit and on the defensive end we’ve got to make something happen. We’ve got to change the tempo so to speak.”

That begins with Collison. Even in limited minutes he has the ability to pressure the ball defensively and pick up ball-handlers closer to mid court. It’s something he was forced to get away from while playing nearly 33 minutes per game as a starter when Paul was out.

“Everybody has a role to play on this team,” Collison said. “At the end of the day, you’ve just got to go out there and play basketball. You’ve got to go out there and figure out a way to win a game.”