LOS ANGELES -- Vinny Del Negro didn’t even want to think about the Los Angeles Clippers' first game back from the NBA All-Star break. Their blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night was so thoroughly embarrassing that he ignored it the next day and called Saturday’s game against the Utah Jazz the Clippers’ first game back after the break.
Del Negro’s reset button doesn’t take away Thursday’s loss, but the Clippers can only hope that Saturday’s 107-94 win over the Jazz is a better indication of how they will play over the last 25 games of the season. The Clippers' performance in the second half, and particularly in the third quarter, is exactly the way Del Negro wants the team to play. It was a perfect blend of suffocating defense and transition offense that was a staple of the Clippers when they had the best record in the NBA at the midway point of this season.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
That’s more like it
After an off night against San Antonio when he only had four points on 1-of-4 shooting, Chris Paul responded with 11 points on 2-of-8 shooting and had seven assists and seven rebounds. It certainly wasn’t his best game of the season but was exactly what the Clippers needed as he ran the show perfectly and got his teammates involved. Chauncey Billups was also more effective, finishing with eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. Overall, the Clippers would love to get more from their backcourt, but they can get by with Saturday’s performance.
The Clippers jumped out to an 11-point lead to start the game, but the Jazz quickly stormed back to take a three-point lead before the Clippers went into the half up 51-49. That would be as close as the game got, with the Clippers igniting on a 14-0 run to start the second half and outscoring the Jazz 36-20 in the third quarter. Blake Griffin and Caron Butler, who combined to score 23 points in the quarter, outtotaled the Jazz on their own as the team outscored the Jazz, 20-8, in the paint. The Clippers also shot 59.1 percent from the field in the third quarter while holding the Jazz to 35.3 percent.
The Clippers’ bench has come under scrutiny recently, and those players will be the first to admit they haven’t played up to their potential recently, aside from Jamal Crawford. On Saturday, Crawford scored 12 points and dished out two assists, but the biggest difference-maker was Lamar Odom, who had 18 points, six rebounds and two assists. It was Odom’s best game this season and his highest point total in over a year. The Clippers also got eight points from Matt Barnes and four from Eric Bledsoe. The Clippers are going to need players like Odom, Barnes and Bledsoe to step up if they wish to contend with the top teams in the league. As much as everyone talks about the Clippers’ depth, if Crawford is the only one producing, the Clippers become an average team when the second unit steps onto the floor and is no longer able to keep leads or build on them as they did earlier in the season.