Recap: Clippers 104, Nuggets 106 - 10/6/12
LAS VEGAS–His jersey untucked, DeAndre Jordan sprinted up the court as Denver guard Ty Lawson committed a foul on the opposite end.
Ever the excitable one, Jordan had just finished off a run of plays that included two slam dunks and two rejections. When the Clippers fell behind by double digits in the third quarter, it was Jordan along with point guard Eric Bledsoe who rallied their team back to within one.
The Clippers never completed the comeback in Saturday’s preseason opener at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, losing to the Nuggets, 106-104, on a buzzer-beating layup by Lawson, but it was certainly something to build on.
Bledsoe, who started in place of injured superstar Chris Paul, finished with a game-high 25 points and added a seemingly customary stat-stuffing eight rebounds, six assists, and five steals. Jordan managed 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting in 24 minutes for a Clipper team that played without Paul (thumb), Chauncey Billups (Achilles), Grant Hill (rest), and Trey Thompkins (knee).
Because of the missing pieces and the exhibition nature of a game that included a combined 50 turnovers, it can be difficult to take everything at face value. Yet nothing was spurious about Jordan and Bledsoe, two of the youngest and most energetic players on the roster.
Bledsoe made plays for teammates, showed improved range from the perimeter, and nearly sent the game to overtime with an acrobatic layup with 1.9 seconds left. Unfortunately for the Clippers, Lawson, who scored eight points for Denver, spoiled the ending.
“Eric’s got great speed and athleticism we see that all the time,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He’s in passing lanes doing a lot of good things. We had too many turnovers, I think Bled [Bledsoe] had a few so we’ve got to work on that, but I like the way he was attacking and controlling the team.”
Bledsoe said, “[There are] a lot of new faces, half of them are vets. I mean, they just look for me to lead them. I was pretty surprised by that. A number of the vets are still listening to a young point guard, so I’m pretty grateful.”
Jamal Crawford agreed, crediting Bledsoe with convincing him to be more aggressive in the second half.
“Bledsoe actually came to me and said, ‘Man, you’re a scorer. You’re being too passive,’” Crawford said. “Then in the fourth quarter Matt [Barnes] and those guys said, ‘Bring us back.’”
Crawford finished with 19 points, going 7-of-14 from the field and taking over the offensive burden late in the game as he coolly scored eight consecutive points. Bledsoe’s prodding helped, according to the one-time Sixth Man of the Year.
“It’s almost like the new kid in school. You don’t want to step on any toes you just want to fit in. But when you’ve got great teammates like we do here, they tell you to be aggressive so it makes it easier.”
Crawford will likely fit in just fine. In addition to helping the Clippers stay in the game in the fourth quarter, he dished out five assists, including an alley oop to Blake Griffin about 20 seconds into his team debut.
“We made some shots. Jamal got going a little bit,” Del Negro said. “It wasn’t the way we wanted to finish, but I was happy with the way we competed, especially with none of our starters in [at the end].”
As for Jordan, the fifth-year center was a more significant part of the offense in the early going than last year. The Clippers made a concerted effort to get Jordan the ball on the low block in the game’s first two possessions. He showed patience, waiting for a few counts before using a drop step to get past Denver center Kosta Koufos for a dunk. On the next trip down the floor, he went to a secondary move for a right-handed jump hook that missed.
“I thought [Jordan] was more patient in the post and just kind of took his time,” Del Negro said. “He missed a couple of easy ones he usually makes, but I liked his activity.”
After the game, Del Negro lauded the activity of several Clippers newcomers, including Ronny Turiaf, Ryan Hollins, and Matt Barnes, who had 15 points, seven rebounds, was disruptive on the defensive end, and connected on a 3-pointer over two defenders to slice Denver’s lead to 103-102 with 8.5 seconds remaining.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys,” Del Negro said. “You know, you’ve got Jamal and Ryan and Ronny out there with Matt, and we’ve just been playing together for a week, so it’s good to put them in those [late-game] situations. We got the bench guys a lot of minutes. Overall, I thought we did some good things, but it was the first step for us.”
Undrafted rookie Hank Thorns had four points in a return to his hometown of Las Vegas. He was the leading scorer for TCU as a senior last season…The official attendance was 6,748. It was the first NBA game on the strip since 1981… Willie Green started at shooting guard for the Clippers, finishing with five points… Denver got 17 points from Jordan Hamilton and 18 from Kenneth Faried. Both players are entering their second seasons in the league… Griffin had six points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Caron Butler chipped in 10 on 5-of-10 shooting in 20 minutes.
Asked what he could take away from the first preseason game, Crawford said, “Definitely the energy and the activity defensively. We did a good job. They [Denver] just got a lot of points in transition when we turned the ball over. I think if we can cut down on that, we’ll be in good shape.”