CLIPPERS CONTINUE TO THRIVE THROUGH INJURIES
LOS ANGELES – When Doc Rivers spoke to the media prior to the Clippers’ record-setting 142-94 win over the Lakers on Thursday he joked that he did not talk to Jared Dudley about Dudley’s injured back.
“I don’t talk to injured guys,” Rivers said.
He doesn’t talk about injured players, so why talk to them. He was kidding, of course, but the idea that the Clippers seemingly find the next man to contribute when players are missing has been something of a theme during their injury riddled 2013-14 season.
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Clippers had lost 112 games to injury, the third most amongst teams that would currently make the Playoffs. That number has increased of late as J.J. Redick continues to recover from a bulging disc in his lower back that has cost him a month, Jamal Crawford sits out with a sore left calf, and Dudley missed his first game of the year Thursday.
They have survived Chris Paul missing 18 games with a separated shoulder, a 21-game absence from Redick (hand/wrist) and the loss of Matt Barnes for a month with a torn retina.
Through it all, they have relied on their system and a sense of trust, which is unique for a team with seven players back from a year ago, two players added in the last week and a half, and an entirely different coaching staff.
“There’s a belief in the system and each other,” Rivers said. “I say it all the time we pay everybody, not just the few guys who get all the accolades. We pay them all and everybody’s ready. Obviously, you can only take a certain amount [of injuries]. But our guys don’t worry about it. I don’t talk about it. I think that’s important. I don’t even mention it if a guy’s out. I don’t. He’s just out. You have to keep moving forward.”
Rivers preached that with Paul, the seven-time All-Star and perennial MVP candidate, out in January and the Clippers won 12 of 18 games. That stretch positioned Blake Griffin as a leader, allowing the offense and the burden of the workload to fall on the young star. It gave Crawford the reigns as a play-maker. And gave Darren Collison a chance to play 35 minutes a game and snap out of an early-season funk, or adjustment period, to a new role on a new team.
Collison responded by playing his best basketball of the season since the calendar turned to 2014, including a team-high 24 points on Thursday starting at shooting guard for the third game in place of both Crawford and Redick.
“It says a lot about us,” Collison said. “It says a lot about this system and the depth that we have. We’re very fortunate with the players off the bench that can fill in for any player that goes down in the starting lineup. We’re real deep.”
The depth doesn’t necessarily show in terms of statistical production from the bench. However, it becomes more apparent when the Clippers lately rarely seem to have the trickledown effect in terms of losing quality minutes when starters or key reserves are out. Someone new tends to step in when it matters.
In Phoenix, Willie Green scored five points at the start of the fourth quarter to pad a 10-point lead. On Thursday, Glen Davis and Danny Granger were on the floor for most of a 21-1 run that turned the game into a laugher in the second quarter. During their current six-game winning streak the Clippers have gotten double-digit scoring games from 10 different players.
The additions have Granger, Davis and Hedo Turkoglu have helped strengthen the bench as well. A team that early in the year relied heavily on Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can suddenly more easily withstand a subpar game from one of their big three or win multiple games without their optimal lineup, something they’ve had just 16 times all season.