JORDAN SHINES IN PRESEASON OPENER
PORTLAND – For the better part of the last week, Doc Rivers has used a variety of adjectives to describe center DeAndre Jordan. At various times he’s referred to Jordan as absolutely terrific, sensational, and unbelievable.
On Monday night, in the Clippers’ preseason opener, any and all of those would have applied.
“D.J. was the player we’ve been telling you he was,” Rivers said after the game. “He controlled the game, I thought, single-handedly with his defense and his energy and his talk.”
In 21 minutes, Jordan finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals. He took nine shots from the field and afterwards said all of them came by virtue of energy and effort.
“I scored but we didn’t call one play for me,” Jordan said. “I just wanted to be as active as possible, offensively and defensively.”
His activity showed right away. He was bouncy, confident and talkative. Amidst nearly 13,000 fans in Moda Center, Jordan’s voice could be heard hollering out calls over all of them. In his eight first-quarter minutes, he set the tone for the entire game.
Jordan grabbed a defensive rebound on the game’s first possession; forced a Robin Lopez miss with a strong contest on the next trip; stole two passes, including one that led to a dunk after he outran Lopez down the floor; converted a 3-point play; disrupted a Damian Lillard drive, leading to a jump ball; swatted back a Wes Matthews floater; blocked a Lopez hook shot and later nearly pinned a Lopez layup against the backboard.
All of that before he took his first break.
“He’s just been awesome,” Willie Green said. “I think things are kind of simplified for him. He knows that running the floor, blocking shots and being our anchor on the defensive end is going to get him easy baskets.”
That showed Monday, when Jordan was on the receiving end of three alley-oops, including two from Chris Paul in transition. The dunks have long been there. Jordan has more than all but three players in the league since 2010-11. But consistency on the defensive end is what will make Jordan a key to the Clippers’ season.
“I just feel like with us getting stops if I can get a block or play great pick-and-roll defense and Chris [Paul] gets a steal, or we limit them to one shot then that gets us out on the break,” Jordan said. “With this philosophy you know it’s definitely defense first. I’m a defensive player and I want to become a better defensive player and I’m just taking on the challenge that’s all.”
The challenge has come from Rivers since he first arrived in Los Angeles in June. When he initially sat down with Jordan, he explained how important it was that his 25-year-old center becomes the team’s defensive anchor.
“I don’t know if I would call it a surprise, but D.J.’s been the best player as far as what we’ve asked him to do. He’s really taken over his role,” Rivers said in the tunnel outside of the visitor’s locker room in Portland prior to the game. “Even today, in a preseason walkthrough [at shoot-around], which was very loose, he corrected guys, asked questions. He’s done a lot of things that we need him to do.”
Jordan says the difference in his approach comes down to a shift in attitude and a revamped confidence.
“It’s awesome for your coach to trust you and have confidence in you,” he said. “It’s only training camp and preseason, we’ve got to carry it over to the regular season and be consistent.”
Paul, who has played with Jordan for half of the big man’s career, has always considered Jordan a vital piece to the Clippers’ puzzle. Even last season, Paul referred to him as the team’s MVP through the month of November. But the newly focused Jordan has made an even bolder impression on his point guard.
“He’s been like that since the first day of training camp,” Paul said. “I’ve had the pleasure of playing with D.J., this is my third season. So, his energy is contagious.”