Eric Bledsoe
Eric Bledsoe led the bench with 12 points.

LOS ANGELES – When he referred to the Clippers second unit in his postgame press conference All-Star Blake Griffin used air quotes.

Griffin was talking about the team’s defensive effort that tilted a three-point game to 20 in about a 7-minute span in the fourth quarter. “I think we got [nine] stops in a row,” said Griffin, who had a game-high 16 points in 30 minutes. “And that was with our ‘second team.’” 

Asked why he put a visual disclaimer on the use of “second” team. Griffin said, “A lot of these guys could be starting on a good number of NBA teams. I don’t like to call it second team because it’s not like it’s that much of a drop off.”

On Sunday afternoon, it was almost an uptick. The five-man unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins overwhelmed the Hawks in the second half.

They were swarming defensively, energizing a game that had slogged through much of the first 36 minutes. During their 20-3 run they scored nine fast-break points and nabbed six steals, playing a significant role in forcing the Hawks into a season-high 22 turnovers.  

Griffin said the group’s ability to put pressure on opposing teams is “unbelievable.” Chris Paul called it “fun to watch” and “exciting for our team.”

Through the first six games of the year the Clippers’ bench averaged 41.8 points per game, good for fifth in the league. But it was due in large part to a bulk of the scoring coming from Crawford, who has four games of 21 points or more. This time it was more of a collective effort.

Crawford had 11 points, Bledsoe 12 and Barnes 10. Turiaf and Hollins made a contribution while combining to attempt one field goal, a dunk by Hollins after the game was well decided.

“Ronny and Ryan know how to play great defense as big men,” Bledsoe said. “They talk and let us know when the screens are coming and when they’re not.”

Turiaf finished with five rebounds and two assists, including a bounce pass from the top of the key that he threaded between defenders to Crawford for a dunk. Barnes led the team in rebounding with seven and combined with Crawford and Bledsoe for seven of the Clippers’ 12 steals.

“Ronny, Ryan, Matt and Bledsoe, all those guys really got active defensively,” Crawford said. “When we do that, we can get easy buckets and get out and run.”

Running has been a point of emphasis from training camp through the early portion of the season, and for the first five games it showed. The Clippers had yet to score fewer than 101 points until Sunday turned into what Crawford called a “grind it out game.”

For Griffin, who has logged 30 minutes or fewer in each of the last three games, the bench and the overall depth could prove valuable for not only turning games like they did Sunday, but also preserving players’ health as the season progresses.

“The bench has helped us a lot,” Griffin said. “There has not been one game where a guy has played over 35 minutes. Last year, I alone was probably averaging around 36 minutes a game. And this year it is nice to be able to go into Portland on a back-to-back and only to play [26] minutes while still being up 20 points.”

The bench gives the Clippers options around Paul, who played 31 minutes, and Griffin. On Sunday Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan sat for a lengthy period in the fourth quarter, and as Griffin alluded to, the lead ballooned. Moving forward there will certainly be games when the two stars carry the load, but as far as Griffin is concerned the words “first” or “second” might as well be omitted altogether from team.