Clippers show key signs of development by crushing Warriors


The Los Angeles Clippers lost three straight games and got blown out by none other than the Charlotte Hornets in a 113-71 loss. Then, with a chance to return home to Staples Center and find some kind of promising form and cohesion, the Clippers’ offense exploded as they dismantled the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night 130-95. Even though Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut didn’t play, and the defending champions gave their role players solid playing time, this game still means more than you might think for the Clippers.

It’s not because they got themselves a win after three losses. That really doesn’t mean anything. Even the fact they crushed their new rivals doesn’t mean much in preseason. The actual reason that a 130 point outburst means something is because for the first time since forming their new team, the Clippers actually looked good.

From the stellar performance of their elite starters, to the improved play of their bench, the Clippers actually played well. They looked like a team who not only wanted to prove themselves against their new rivals, but they looked like a team who were actually capable of doing so.

That kind of drive and chemistry has been absent with the new-look Clippers so far.

Until now.

The starters went off as they almost always do. Blake Griffin had 18 points in the first quarter on 6-0f-7 shooting and J.J. Redick (as per usual) had a hot start the game, too. With his 9 points in the opening quarter combined with Griffin’s unstoppable start, the two of them outscored the entire Warriors team by themselves in the first quarter.

From that point on, it became clear that things were going to be a little different for the Clippers after struggling so much in their last game against the Hornets. The bench played like a cohesive unit rather than a group of trigger-happy ball handlers, the Big 3 produced in ways that only they can, and the Clippers played with heart and chemistry at both ends of the floor for the entire game.

That kind of night is a welcome change from the starters having a hot start and the bench checking in and destroying their lead within a few minutes. Against the Warriors, that wasn’t the case at all. Yes, Golden State may have played their role players more than normal, but that’s not really the point. The fact that the Clippers’ bench moved the ball, made swift, accurate passes, looked for their teammates rather than looking to score by themselves, and played more resilient defense, is the real takeaway from Tuesday’s game.

As important as it was to see the Clippers resemble the team everyone thought they could be, though, the remarkable shooting clinic that Griffin put on deserves some recognition.

He caught fire to score 23 points in just his first 14 minutes on the floor. With a flurry of jump shots and effortless drives to the basket, he simply scored at will.

From the bench, it was Josh Smith in particular that seemed to play with even more heart, energy and patience than we’ve seem from him so far. In the 18 minutes he played, Smith tallied 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting while going 2-of-2 from three point range. Add on his 5 rebounds, 1 steal and 2 blocks, and he produced the kind of well rounded performance that will continue to provide a serious spark off the bench in L.A. this year. From his athleticism, improving shooting, rebounding, versatile defense and play in transition, he can make a difference at both ends of the floor in ways that Glen Davis and Spencer Hawes never could last season.

Austin Rivers stepped up after missing the Clippers’ second game against the Hornets due to having five teeth knocked out from the flying forearm of Branden Dawson in practice. Yet, with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting and the second best +/- (+19) of any Clippers player, Rivers certainly made his 20 minutes against the Warriors count.

The crisp ball movement and selfless play of the bench was something we haven’t really seen from them, and it led to smooth buckets like this dunk from Rivers:

Jamal Crawford put in a good performance, too. With 13 points and 9-of-10 shooting from the charity stripe, he had a highly efficient game all around (except for three turnovers). On top of that, he also recorded a +/- of +17, which was even better than fellow wing players J.J. Redick and Paul Pierce; a rare sighting for this preseason.

The key part of his night, though? He played within a set role and didn’t try and do too much. In fact, Crawford took just three shots. If cutting down on his shooting and looking to move the ball is going to be more beneficial to the Clippers, then that’s what he needs to do.

If we return to Smith quickly, though, he proved the kind of defensive toughness he can bring to the Clippers this season; evidenced by his 2 blocks including this powerful rejection of a Harrison Barnes dunk attempt:

When looking at the play of the bench all together, they made a statement. The win doesn’t matter, but the way they played together is of genuine importance. The 32 personal fouls the Clippers committed wasn’t exactly pretty, though that’s a minor and irregular negative to cause concern.

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The next step to continue their development together is on Thursday night (Oct. 22) against the Portland Trail Blazers. Which, of course, is only a preseason game, but it still gives them an important chance to continue the upward trajectory they’ve just started. It’s that chance to refine their chemistry, ball movement, and defense even further before the regular season that’s key.

They still need more time to continue finding their rhythm with one another, although executing at both ends of the floor against the Warriors was a significant step in the right direction. Whether it was Griffin’s dominance or the collective input of the bench, the Clippers looked like a real team rather than a bunch of confused individuals for the first time.

Following the game, Crawford said that “Win or loss… it’s about doing things the right way”.

After their starters put on a show and the bench and defense improved, that’s exactly what the Clippers did.

Next: Clippers-Warriors: The rivalry that won't stop rival'ing