Postgame Report: Clippers 106, Nuggets 94 - 10/25/12

DENVER–For much of Thursday’s 106-94 win over the Denver Nuggets, the Clippers looked primed for the regular season.

Blake Griffin scored 25 points with 11 rebounds in 29 minutes, Chris Paul recorded his first preseason double-double with 10 points and 12 assists a game after sitting out to rest a sore right thigh, and Caron Butler added 16 points, including 12 in the third quarter.

It may have been the preseason finale for the Clippers (5-3), but the team closely resembled what it may look like on opening night with starters playing deep into the third quarter and the bench, which put together a 20-8 run to open the second quarter, exemplifying why they are expected to be among the deepest in the league.

The Clippers host the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday, Oct. 31 to start the regular season. They closed their exhibition schedule with three consecutive wins.

“We’ve still got some practices coming up here that are very important before opening night and obviously the season will jump on us quick,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I thought we did some good things tonight and everyone contributed.”

Griffin got off to a hot start for the second consecutive game. He had his way with Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos in the early going, using a 22-foot jump shot, an acrobatic layup, and a couple of lobs from Paul, Griffin’s dunk muse, to tally 12 first-quarter points. He finished the game 10-for-13 from the field with one of his misses coming on a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired.

Overall, the first half was evidence of what kind of offensive juggernaut the Clippers, when fully healthy, could become. They scored 61 points on 56.5% shooting and were effective in transition against a Denver team that was the most high-octane offense in the NBA last season.


“I thought we were crisp in the first half and in the third quarter,” Del Negro said. “We got a little stagnant offensively in the fourth quarter, but overall I thought it was a good effort for us.”

The bench helped extend the lead after they entered en masse in the second quarter. Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe combined for 25 points as the backcourt duo made nine of their first 11 shots. Ronny Turiaf, Ryan Hollins and Matt Barnes rounded out the group that forced Denver into several miscues and led to easy baskets.

“That’s what the bench is all about, coming in and taking full advantage,” said Ronny Turiaf, who had two points and two rebounds in 19 reserve minutes. “I think the group that we have right now, we have guys that know how to play with each other and know their role. We have scorers, we have defenders, we have guys that can roll to the basket and make plays and it’s just a matter of coming [into the game] and going full throttle.”

Bledsoe, who played a dazzling 44 minutes a night earlier, added: “I feel real great. I’ve just got to come in backing C.P. (Paul) up, be aggressive, and try to take the lead as far as I can before I come out.”

While the bench was one of several aspects the Clippers can build on as they head towards next week’s opener, Del Negro said after the game that there were still some areas he would like to see improvement. One may be defending the 3-point line. Denver made eight of their 21 3-pointers, including four from Danilo Gallinari, Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala in the first six minutes of the game. In eight preseason games, the Clippers allowed a league-worst 42.8% opponents shooting percentage from distance.  

“It is a little bit [of a concern],” Del Negro said. “That’s what Denver does, they push the tempo, they get it out, and they’ve got some guys that can really make shots. We’ve got to do a better job getting back, punching out, so that is a concern, but overall I liked our defensive field goal percentage and we do a good job once we get teams in the half court.”

The Nuggets shot 40% from the field for the game and trailed by as many as 20 points in the second half. Afterwards Denver head coach George Karl sounded more concerned about his team’s defensive showing.

“They had dunks and one of our priorities was to not give up any dunks,” Karl said of the Clippers. “Their speed and quickness is pretty impressive. We allowed them to have some room [but] the second half was more balanced. The game was kind of fun to watch.”

NOTES

Lamar Odom and Grant Hill (bruised knees) did not play for the fifth consecutive game... The Clippers topped 100 points twice this preseason, both times against the Nuggets… Ryan Hollins blocked four shots in the game, including a powerful rejection of an Andre Miller layup in the second quarter. He finished the preseason with a team-high 19 blocks in the preseason… The Clippers were 22-of-25 (88%) from the free throw line… Paul talked about the team’s state of mind heading into the opener: “We’re ready. We can’t wait. I think we’re ready. Obviously, we’re not where we want to be because it’s early in the season. For us coming up on our first game, we’re right where we need to be.”