When Mark Cuban said “The Clippers are still the Clippers,” his implicit meaning was clear: The Los Angeles Clippers have always been, and still are, losers and incapable of winning an NBA championship.
So, then, the first meeting of the season between the unbeaten Golden State Warriors (fresh off a 50-point pasting of the Memphis Grizzlies) and the unbeaten Clippers was more than just another statement game. It was an opportunity for LAC to demonstrate that Cuban is wrong; that, yes, they’re ready, willing and able to avoid losing their first important game of the season.
But, alas for the Clipsters, this was not to be. Here’s why:
In the first half, Chris Paul scored 20 points and was able to take the ball wherever he desired — to the rim for layups, to open spaces for jumpers, drawing defensive help that left his playmates open to receive assist-passes. For the game, CP3 had nine assists and only two turnovers — a remarkable ratio since he necessarily registered so much ball time.
Blake Griffin was his usual monstrous presence on offense, ferociously backing his defender into the paint, setting sturdy screens and even hitting six of the eight jumpers he launched. He also recorded six assists, including an awesome lob pass that DeAndre Jordan turned into a dunk. Griffin’s stat line was impressive — 10-21, 10 rebounds, only two turnovers and 23 points — and he also drew a charging foul when the game was on the line.
Jordan had 13 rebounds, two blocks and was 5-6 from the field. On LAC’s very first possession, Doc Rivers’s promise to get Jordan more involved in the offense bore fruit when the big fellow was passed the ball on the left box and scored on a forceful baseline move. On his second post-up attempt, Jordan scored another bucket.
Throughout the game, Jordan’s massive screens forced the Warriors to switch, thereby creating multiple scoring opportunities for LA.
J.J. Redick never stopped moving on offense, and shot the lights out — 5-8, including 3-4 from three-point land, plus three assists.
When CP3 was benched after committing his fourth foul midway through the 3rd quarter, LAC’s much ballyhooed bench more than picked up the slack — outscoring Golden State by 11 while Paul was spectating.
After missing his first seven shots, Jamal Crawford heated up in the absence of CP3, shooting 4-8 as the Clippers rallied. He even made a solid defensive stand when iso’d by the tough Harrison Barnes.
Another key element in LAC’s Paul-less run was Austin Rivers — 4-8 for eight points and some terrific defense (before fouling out) against Stephen Curry.
Lance Stephenson dropped both of the treys he launched, and had three nifty assists.
The Clippers ran a beautifully-designed jump-ball play late in the game when Griffin back-tapped the ball to Jordan, who then tossed a long pass to Paul (who had raced downcourt as soon as the ref lofted the ball) for an uncontested layup.
Even though the Warriors seemed to have a firm grip on the game into the third quarter, the Clips never quit and fought their way to a nine-point lead with seven minutes left on the game clock.
CP3 tallied only four points in the second half and made several costly mistakes in clutch time — including missing a pair of free throws, making an atrocious inbounds pass that was easily intercepted, aimlessly dribbling during a key possession until the shot clock expired and missing an open trey with 20 seconds left in the game that would’ve regained the lead.
The Warriors posted Paul for profit several times — with the Clippers offering no defensive help.
Stephenson yielded a costly two points when he turned his head on defense. He also showed poor judgment on several occasions when he passed up open jumpers to fruitlessly drive the ball into heavy traffic.
All game long, the Clippers routinely gave Golden State’s sharpshooters too much room (including Stephen Curry!) — especially when the Warriors were in early offense.
Jordan rarely helped defend high screen/rolls, choosing not to venture past the foul line. Despite his two blocks, Jordan was guilty of numerous late rotations and did little to protect the rim when the Warriors drove the ball into the lane.
On one critical sequence — and even though Jordan had inside position — he let Barnes rip a potential offensive rebound out of his hands.
Late in the game, when LAC again went to Jordan in the low post, he bobbled the incoming pass — thereby incurring his third turnover.
The Warriors attacked Redick’s defense by successfully posting and isolating him.
Griffin didn’t always throw his hand at the ball when an opponent released a shot in close proximity. When he was taken into the pivot, Griffin was unable to establish good defensive position — even Festus Ezeli burned him in the low post.
LAC’s defense was constantly befuddled by high screens, back screens, double screens and staggered screens. When they did switch, their man-to-man defense was much too loose.
Basically, the Warriors made shots and out-executed the Clippers on both ends of the court when the game was up for grabs.
Jordan was his usual inept self at the stripe, missing three of his four attempts from there — including an airball.
In the first half, Crawford air-mailed both a 15-foot jumper and an uncontested trey.
Except for nailing a three-pointer, Josh Smith was a non-factor in his 13 minutes of daylight.
Uglier still was Paul Pierce’s performance. He looked slow, old and in-the-way — failing to hit a field goal (0-3) and being routinely abused on defense. Even uglier was PP’s bricking a pair of free throws in the endgame.
So, at least for one key game, Mark Cuban was right on.