Five Takeaways: Clippers Defend Their Way Past Hawks, 115-105

Five Takeaways: Clippers Defend Their Way Past Hawks, 115-105

ATLANTA – The Hawks couldn’t score on the shorthanded Clippers (30-16) in the first half, and when Atlanta (26-19) finally got going late, Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford made sure the lead and the win stayed intact Monday night.

Here are five quick takeaways from the Clippers’ 115-105 victory.

1) Rivers returns, stays hot – Austin Rivers led all players in points (14) and assists (four) at the half, but it didn’t look good as he left the game late in the second quarter after coming down awkwardly on a fastbreak layup. For once, the Clippers got good news on the injury front, as he was fine to return, and he showed no signs of slowing down, finishing with a game-high 27 points, a team-high six assists and four rebounds.

Head coach Doc Rivers said before the game either Austin or Raymond Felton would likely have to play big minutes every night, and it was the former’s turn Monday, as Austin went 10-for-21 from the floor and 5-for-10 from deep, hitting the dagger 3-pointer to put the game away in the final minute. The Clippers needed it, with Felton getting into foul trouble, and it’s just a continuation of what’s already been a stellar month for Austin, who came into the night averaging 17.1 points per game in January.

2) Defense intensifies – The Clippers held the Hawks to 32.5 percent shooting in the first half, helping them build a 22-point lead. After forcing seven turnovers in the first half and just one the rest of the night, that early cushion was essential as Atlanta started to creep back in the remainder of the night. Still, the Clippers got the stops they needed late, after the Hawks cut the lead down to five, and the Clippers ended up holding Atlanta to 42 percent shooting, the lowest percentage for a Clippers opponent since Jan. 8.

3) Backcourt attacks, Crawford stops skid – Too often in their last game against Denver, the Clippers’ offense was out of sync, leading to long 2-pointers that wouldn’t fall. That wasn’t the case Monday, as the Clippers’ guards attacked the paint, then kicked it out and hit from deep, with Austin Rivers and Felton providing the final blows from behind the arc at the end.

As a team, the Clippers went 14-for-24 from 3-point range, with all the guards getting into the action. In addition to Rivers’ 28 points, J.J. Redick’s 17 points and Felton’s 14, Jamal Crawford stopped his cold streak by pouring in 19 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. The 19 points were Crawford’s most since Jan. 4. He finished 9-for-20, making more shots than his previous four games combined.

4) Shaky third – The Clippers continued adding to their lead early in the third quarter, ahead 71-48 when the Hawks started getting on the run and knocking down shots, going on a 23-8 run. Atlanta scored just 40 points in the first half, then exploded for 35 in the third, including six points on fast breaks and 10 free throws.

The Hawks took advantage when they got to the line, going 22-for-26 on their free throws and cutting the Clippers’ at one point 24-point lead down to five late in the fourth. Crawford and Austin Rivers made sure the Clippers would still come out victorious.

5) Blake “most likely” back Tuesday – Doc Rivers said last week Blake Griffin would return either Monday or Tuesday. After sitting out Monday against the Hawks, Rivers said Griffin is most likely going to return Tuesday in Philadelphia. Austin Rivers said after the win he’s excited for the boost to come.

The Clippers improved to 3-7 this season when missing both Chris Paul and Griffin, and getting the latter back should pay dividends. If Griffin plays Tuesday as expected, it will mark his first game since Dec. 18. Griffin underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Dec. 20 and has missed the Clippers’ last 17 games.

What’s Next? – The Clippers play the second game of a back-to-back Tuesday in Philadelphia.