LOS ANGELES – They’re back.
Over the last week, Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said the bench needed to play better. Top scoring reserve Jamal Crawford said he wanted to be more aggressive. And feisty reserve wing Matt Barnes said they needed to play with more of a “chip on their shoulder.”
It all came together Saturday night in a 116-81 win over the Sacramento Kings.
The bench scored 25 of the Clippers first 46 points, including nine from Barnes in the stretch, and finished the game with a season-high 58.
“That’s kind of how we were on that six-game stretch,” Blake Griffin said. “That’s huge and that’s what we need from them (the bench). And the starters tonight I thought did a better job right out of the gate. That’s what we need from both groups.”
The starters set the tone with an energetic opening quarter and as the bench began trickling into the game, an 11-point lead expanded. Ronny Turiaf, who played through a twisted ankle he suffered Wednesday, started making plays around the rim. Barnes and Eric Bledsoe started disrupting seemingly everything Sacramento wanted to do offensively. Jamal Crawford knocked down shots. And Lamar Odom began looking like a semblance of his old self.
“We’re going to go out there and doing what we do,” Turiaf said as he slid an earring into his left lobe after the game. “Just go out there and have fun and play with a tremendous amount of energy and play with almost reckless abandon.”
Turiaf scored five points with five rebounds and two blocked shots, Barnes had 12 on 5-of-7 shooting, Bledsoe scored 14 points with four assists and four steals and Odom put together his best game of the young season with six points, five rebounds and five assists.
In a few flashes, such as a drive and kick play along the left baseline that led to a corner 3-pointer from Barnes, Odom conjured memories of the player who won the 2010-11 NBA Sixth Man award.
“I’m just trying to put it all together,” Odom said. “With time on the court and playing and practicing at a high level the way we do, slowly but surely it will get there.”
Another former Sixth Man of the Year, Crawford, bounced back from a recent slump. After shooting 52.2% from the floor in his first nine games, Crawford had dipped to 33.3% in his last six, barely extending his streak of 23 consecutive games in double-figures.
On Saturday, he seemed to get in a rhythm early by making plays for others. He tallied a season-high six assists in the game and wound up scoring a team-high 17 points, making seven of his 14 shots and going 3-for-5 from 3-point range.
“Tonight I felt like I got back to [being aggressive],” Crawford said. “That’s who I am, I’ve been this way 13 years in the NBA; I can’t change now.”
According to Crawford, the key for the bench unit, which shot 57% for the game (24-of-42) and upped their season average to 40.1 points per game, was getting a cushion from the starters.
“The starters got us off to a great start and we had some momentum,” Crawford said. “When you play like that, you don’t have to play perfect, you can make mistakes and you have time out there where you can make up for it. When you’re playing defense like that, getting up and down the court, that’s when we’re at our best.”