Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Rapid Reaction: Clippers 103, Jazz 99
By Jovan Buha Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- For the first time during the 2013-14 preseason, the Los Angeles Clippers had their starting lineup intact and playing together.
Newcomer J.J. Redick (14 points, three 3-pointers) and rookie Reggie Bullock made their long-awaited preseason debuts, as Matt Barnes (sore left calf) is now the only rotational player who is still injured.
The result was a narrow 103-99 victory over a young and rebuilding Utah Jazz team the Clippers routed less than two weeks ago in Salt Lake City (106-74).
Despite how competitive the fourth quarter was, coach Doc Rivers closed with the second unit, so perhaps the final score wouldn't have been so close if Chris Paul (14 points, six rebounds, 10 assists), Blake Griffin (15 points, six rebounds) and DeAndre Jordan (nine points, seven rebounds) finished the game.
Still, that's what the preseason is for -- to iron out the kinks, develop team chemistry and determine what rotation and lineup combinations work best. The Clippers' bench was put to the test Wednesday night, and they came up big in crunch time.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The new guys
Redick's presence was felt immediately, as he started in his projected slot at shooting guard. On the Clippers' third possession, Redick curled off a Jordan screen on the left wing, caught a pass from Paul and nailed an open 19-foot jumper. From then on he was confident and assertive, and didn't pass up any open looks.
The offense's spacing and ball movement looked considerably better with Redick on the court, but his greatest impact came on the defensive end. Despite giving up at least three inches to talented Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward, Redick played solid on-ball defense and denied Hayward the ball at nearly every turn. The moment Redick checked out in the first quarter, Hayward quickly reeled off five points.
Meanwhile, Bullock didn't take a single shot and played only five minutes, but his defense on Hayward also looked impressive. He stuck with him around screens and hounded him into traps out of the pick-and-roll. It's clear his role on the offensive end will simply be to space the floor and stand beyond the arc in wings and corners.
Blake Griffin, playmaker
Before the game, Rivers spoke candidly about his confidence in Griffin's passing and playmaking ability, and how he has an expanded role in the team's new offense.
"I think he's a terrific playmaker with the ball," Rivers said. "I think after Chris, he may be our second-best playmaker and passer. We want to play through him in that way as well. ... I really want Blake to score a lot and make plays."
Griffin did just that. He had only two assists on the night, but he had a handful of good passes that merely led to missed shots by his teammates. He attacked well from the elbow and in transition, and was constantly looking to throw a lob to Jordan or kick out to an open shooter in the corners. All three of his turnovers came off forced passes, which is a natural byproduct of a player taking on a greater decision-making role.
Of course, Griffin's new role doesn't mean he's done with his usual pyrotechnics -- he posterized Utah's 7-foot-2 rookie center Rudy Gobert off a pick and roll with Paul in the third quarter, drawing the loudest ovation of the night.
The Clippers have made a ton of progress during preseason implementing Rivers' strong-side defensive system, but their rotations and help defense weren't on point Wednesday. Jazz big men Derrick Favors (24 points, 17 rebounds) and Enes Kanter (13 points) were able to easily score against Griffin and Jordan whenever they were in single coverage, which shows the Clippers' bigs still have room for improvement inside.
To compensate, the Clippers' wings aggressively helped down on the post and were often a step too far from 3-point shooters. The Jazz took advantage, starting off hot from deep (4-of-11, 36.4 percent) before missing six of their last seven attempts. The Clippers were also pounded on the glass, 57-43, which has been a disturbing trend so far. There has been plenty to be encouraged about from the Clippers' first seven preseason games, but their inconsistent defensive effort Wednesday was an unwelcomed flashback to last season.