- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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"They’re going to win eventually," Rivers said. "That’s just the odds."
That might be true, but it wouldn’t be Friday, and it certainly wouldn’t be against the Clippers, who beat their city rivals 123-87 in a game the Clippers led by as many as 43 points in the fourth quarter.
It was the largest margin of victory the Clippers have ever had over the Lakers, and fell just short of the largest margin of victory the Clippers have achieved against any team.
As much as the Clippers will claim there is no rivalry with the Lakers and they don’t pay attention to the team down the hall, the fact is there is and they do.
There is no question that the Lakers beating the Clippers on opening night on national television played a role in the Clippers’ relentlessness Friday, when their 20-point, first-quarter lead ballooned to 42 points before the end of the third.
"We definitely remembered," Blake Griffin said. "They hit 14 3s on us, their bench made 76 points and 11 of their 3s were uncontested. We just didn’t play well."
That Griffin was able to rattle statistics off from the season opener almost three months later showed the impact that it had on the Clippers. There was no way they were going to let up when they jumped ahead early. They wanted to show the Lakers and the city that they are the best team in town.
Friday’s blowout win certainly put the exclamation point on the Clippers being the best team in Los Angeles at the moment. Looking at where both are, that isn’t really saying much anymore, as the injury-riddled Lakers have become one of the worst teams in the NBA, with fans more focused on the lottery than the playoffs.
Rivers smiled when he thought back to the season opener and how much the Clippers have grown since his first regular-season game as their coach.
"[The Lakers] were more ready in that game," Rivers said. "[Lakers coach] Mike [D’Antoni] had them ready for that game, and we were not mentally ready for that game, I didn’t think. We thought because of all the talk this summer [we were going to win]. I just felt like they attacked us all game and we never responded. I told our guys yesterday that we can’t come to a game to put on a show. You have to come to a game to have a competition. I thought tonight we were ready for the competition."
The season opener was so bad and such an aberration in Rivers’ mind that he didn’t even show his team the film of that game as they prepared for Friday’s contest.
"We usually show film of the last game, and today I actually told them, 'You guys don’t want to see that film,'" Rivers said. "I watched it, and I couldn’t find a redeeming thing to show you that we did good, so we’re going to pass on film, which is unusual for us. You didn’t want to see us."
Aside from not wanting to re-live one of the team’s worst performances of the season, a bigger reason Rivers didn’t feel the Clippers needed to watch film of the opener is that their defense is almost unrecognizable from that night to today. When you’re looking for the biggest reason the Clippers are playing the way they are and why they’ve been able to win four of five games without the injured Chris Paul, look no further than the defense.
"That’s the change," Rivers said. "Offensively, we were pretty good [in the season opener]. We shot 50 percent. The difference in this team right now is the defense is catching up."
It took about a month for the Clippers to fully understand and buy into Rivers’ defensive philosophy, but since then, the Clippers have been one of the best defensive teams in the league. Since Nov. 19, the Clippers are 19-9 and are in the top four in opponent field goal percentage, defensive efficiency, opponent 3-point percentage and opponent fast-break posts. The latter two were keys for Rivers this season, and the Clippers now rank in the top two in both categories.
Friday night was actually the first time in Clippers history that the team had 16 steals and 13 blocks in the same game.
If the Clippers are to win something more than bragging rights against the Lakers this season, it will be largely because of their improved defense.
"We have a ways to go, but right before I went out [in November], I could tell that we were starting to get it defensively," said Clippers guard J.J. Redick, who returned to the starting lineup on Friday and had 19 points after being sidelined for six weeks with a hand injury. "After I went out, I was watching those games on the East Coast, and we had some really great defensive games. We’re getting it. When I went out 20 games ago, I said we’re close and we’re there almost. We’re pretty much there defensively. We get it."
2dMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon