Clippers See Ways To Stay Afloat In First Win Without Paul & Griffin
LOS ANGELES – Head coach Doc Rivers wouldn’t accept the same effort that led to the Clippers getting outscored by 73 fast-break points in their previous three games entering Monday night.
So when the Clippers, who held onto a 4-2 lead early Monday night, let T.J. Warren sprint the other direction for points following a lackluster transition effort off a bad pass not even three minutes into their matchup against the Suns, Rivers crossly made his way onto the court and called for a 20-second timeout.
The message was clear.
“Play harder. Play with more urgency,” said Rivers, who added that Phoenix and Suns head coach Earl Watson do a good job pressuring opposing offenses. “They blew up I think our first three plays. They were just more aggressive, so that was the message – you have to own your own space.”
Their first win in their last seven games followed. More than anything, they said they needed to know what that felt like again.
“It’s certainly a different feel in the locker room after the game when you win,” said J.J. Redick, who finished with a team-high 22 points. “There’s certain points in the season – I think players go through it, and teams go through it – where you just have stretches where you’re stuck in a rut or you feel like nothing’s going right. You just have to keep grinding, and eventually it’ll turn.”
Monday night, with the Clippers earning their first win of the season in six games without both Blake Griffin (knee procedure) and Chris Paul (hamstring strain), might’ve been an example of how that can happen.
There’s no doubting the uphill battle the Clippers face without their two stars, the former for at least another few weeks and the latter on a game-to-game basis. A drop-off is somewhat unavoidable.
But parts of the recent slide can be mended or mitigated, something many of the Clippers talked about after their loss in Oklahoma City.
There are the turnovers – the Clippers had another 20 on Monday night in the win against the Suns after committing 15 in each of their two previous games, an area that still needs to get better.
There are the transition baskets, which are often a product of the turnovers – the Clippers allowed 83 fast-break points to just 10 of their own in their three games entering Monday night, then got outscored by 19 in fast-break points to the Suns.
In those areas, more work needs to be done.
But there’s also what Marreese Speights said, something less tangible – the same message Rivers preached to his team after letting the Suns go the other direction off a turnover early Monday night.
“We’ve got to look in the mirror and understand we’ve got to play harder,” Speights said in Oklahoma City. “No excuse with (Paul and Griffin) being out, we’ve just got to step up more.”
The Clippers did that against Phoenix in a couple different ways.
They used a three-guard lineup Rivers hoped would lead to more attacking and less settling, and he liked the results, as eight different Clippers scored at least nine points and Austin Rivers, Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford each finished with five assists.
“If the defense pulled in, throw it out from there,” Doc Rivers said. “I thought that’s why J.J. got shots today. Jamal, Austin and Raymond were attacking the basket.”
But where the Clippers saw their most important change happened on the other end of the floor, an area they’ve tried to fix ever since their 14-2 start.
“In the second half, we had unbelievable half-court defense,” Redick said. “It reminded me of earlier in the season when we were flying around and covering for each other. Our rotations were phenomenal tonight. That, to me, was why we won.”
The Clippers forced the Suns to shoot 38.2 percent – their first time holding a team to worse than 40 percent shooting since Nov. 9 – including a 2-for-15 mark from behind the arc.
“I feel like we played the right way,” said DeAndre Jordan, who blocked three shots and pulled down 20 rebounds.
During their six-game losing streak, the Clippers found themselves in the bottom five in the league in fast-break points allowed, points in the paint allowed and second-chance points allowed.
But they saw a jump defensively Monday night, one that started to remind them of the top-ranked defensive group they were earlier this year. They know if they play that way, helping and covering for one another defensively, it’ll go a long way toward getting back on track until their stars return.
“We have enough guys,” Redick said, “I believe we can turn it.”