LOS ANGELES -- When the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers both have home games on a Sunday, the Clippers are usually the team relegated to the 12:30 p.m. slot unless the Lakers have a nationally televised game.
In the past these early tipoffs, especially during the football season, have been met by a half-empty arena and a half-hearted effort by the home team. Those days seem to be in the Clippers’ rearview mirror; these matinees sell out and fans approach them the same energy as any other game.
It has been easier said than done at times, but the Clippers are finally learning how to play up to their own level, not down to the level of their competition. Against the Atlanta Hawks, the Clippers hung around in a back-and-forth game that saw 20 lead changes before outscoring Atlanta 24-16 in the final quarter to win 89-76 and improve their record to 5-2, following three straight wins.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The new Griffin
There are several aspects of Blake Griffin’s game that have evolved over the past year, but perhaps the biggest is toning down the theatrics that has made him one of the most popular and most disliked players in the NBA. On a breakaway in the third quarter, during which the entire arena was expecting Griffin to give them a slam dunk-worthy performance, he simply laid the ball in. In the same quarter, Griffin felt he was fouled by Josh Smith on a putback, but instead of complaining with the official and giving him an exasperated stare, he put his head down and ran back on defense. These are small details that won’t show up on his final state line (16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists) but were perhaps just as important.
The Hawks held a 60-59 with less than a minute left in the third quarter before the Clippers went on a 26-5 run to take an 86-65 lead with 3:25 left in the game that put the game away. The run was largely sparked by the Clippers’ second team, led by Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes. The trio combined for 33 points and 11 rebounds. Bledsoe was once again the team’s most important player off the bench, scoring 12 points in just 18 minutes, with eight of those points coming in the final quarter. During the past three games, the Clippers' bench has been the biggest reason they have been able to jump out to leads of 20 or more points and put the opposition away.
Jordan continues to shine
A couple of days after Shaquille O'Neal called DeAndre Jordan the best center in the Western Conference, O'Neal was sitting courtside Sunday to watch Jordan up close. Jordan didn't have his best game, finishing with eight points and five rebounds, but after back-to-back 20-point games that was probably expected against Atlanta's athletic front line.
Jordan was still happy to hear such high praise from a player he looks up to.
"That’s a huge compliment from a player like that," he said. "He’s one of the greatest bigs ever to play the game. So for him and a couple of other guys to even put me in that category and give me a compliment like that, it pushes you and gives you extra motivation not to be complacent."
Jordan worked on his free throws and his post game in the offseason, and it has paid off so far this season as Jordan, who was always a defensive force, has made his presence felt on the offensive end, as well.
"I worked hard on my game this summer," Jordan said. "I got a lot of reps up and I’m comfortable down there with the basketball. When my teammates have that trust in me to give me the ball and make the right basketball play, it makes me more confident and comfortable."