- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- J.J. Redick was worried before his first game back after a six-week absence.
He didn't want to make a token return after suffering a fracture in the small bone of his right hand at the end of November. He wanted to make sure he made a difference when he finally returned to the court Friday night.
"I just don't want to come in and play 15 minutes and have one shot and one rebound," Blake Griffin recalls Redick telling him. "So after like four minutes in [his return] game I said, 'Are you happy now?'"
In that first game back, he had 19 points in the Los Angeles Clippers' 123-87 blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers with 10 points coming in the first quarter as he made five of his first six shots.
He continued to have the hot hand Wednesday in a 129-127 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Redick finished with a career-high 33 points and five assists, scoring 23 of his points in the first half.
There is no substitute for the loss of Chris Paul, who will be sidelined six weeks due to a separated right shoulder, but Redick’s return certainly helps. While Darren Collison has done an admirable job in place of Paul, the return of Redick has helped stabilize the Clippers' starting lineup and allowed Jamal Crawford to return to his natural role of being the team's sixth man.
In Paul's absence, the Clippers have won four straight, and five of their first six in 2014.
"You want to have a system in place," Redick said. "A lot of what we do is multiple pick-and-rolls and multiple actions which kind of benefit everybody. It benefits your team when you have multiple playmakers, which I think we do. We have a few guards on the team that can make plays besides Chris and Blake as a [power forward] is a great passer and can make plays for others. We have it in our system where guys can step up."
Redick is one of the first players Clippers coach Doc Rivers targeted when he came to Los Angeles. He had unsuccessfully tried to make deals to get him when he was coaching the Boston Celtics. He knew the Clippers lacked a 3-point threat last season and there was nobody better to stretch the court than Redick. He also knew he was getting something more when he talked to former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy.
"When I was talking about him with Stan Van Gundy, he said, 'You think you're getting a shooter, but you're shocked that you're going to get so much more,'" Rivers said. "He's a playmaker. He's tough and he's always in the right spots on defense and the best part about him is that he tells everybody the truth, even the coaches, and that's a good thing.
"I have not seen guys to miss the amount of games that he's missed and come back this sharp. He had a broken wrist so he couldn't shoot, so it's like he was hurt and shooting. He had not been able to shoot during this time. He's a tough dude."
Even before Redick returned to the Clippers' lineup, Rivers could see the impact he would have when he watched him go through practices with the first team.
"[Redick] is one of those guys, and again, I didn't know him, but I've always liked him," Rivers said. "Our practices are different when he practices. He just plays at that gear and with that intensity. You can see it. I thought him coming off those screens to start the game really got us going. It's just nice to have him back."
One of Redick's greatest attributes on the court is he is always in motion. He is always running around the court, spacing the floor and trying to get open.
"He's constantly moving," Griffin said. "Even if he's not hitting shots, it's the movement. You always have to be aware of where he is. So it opens up a lot of things for the rest of us."
Even when the Clippers were on the road and Redick was the only player on the court back at the Clippers' training facility, he was still constantly in motion.
"I did a lot of running on my own," Redick said. "When the team has been on the road, I've been running sprints in the gym, alone; unsolicited, with no trainer. I knew I was in good enough shape. I put in a ton of time once I got cleared to resume ballhandling and shooting."
Redick's return has not only stabilized the team and the rotation, but it has enabled the Clippers to usually have good starts. When it comes to first-quarter scoring, Redick is one of the elite players in the league. He is fifth in the league in points per game in the first quarter with seven, which is only behind Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
"He gets everybody going," Collison said. "It seems like J.J. doesn't need to get warmed up the first five minutes. That's what he's been doing all season long. I think we're all happy to have him back. He does so many good things for us, not just shooting the ball but moving without the ball and opening it up for us. It takes a lot of pressure off of me. You don't have to create as much."
Redick says he doesn't believe the expectations for the Clippers have changed at all this season, despite Paul's absence from the lineup, along with his own. If anything, they'll be stronger for having won games without their starting backcourt for long stretches this season.
"I have the same expectations," Redick said. "We have a chance to contend in the West and get to the Finals. We need to be healthy for that to happen, but this team has already been through some adversity, which I actually think is a good thing."
12hMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon