LOS ANGELES — Blake Griffin finished with 37 points and 9 rebounds on Halloween night to lead the Clippers to a 114-109 victory over the short-handed Sacramento Kings.
With higher expectations than ever entering this season, Griffin has been playing at an MVP-level to start the season. The Clippers are off to their first 3-0 start since the 2007-2008 season.
“I think it’s the mindset of our team,” Griffin said, when asked about what feels different about this season. “From the start of training camp, we always talked about doing the little things like not wasting any time. We’ve had a rough road and learned a lot of lessons over the last four or five years. We didn’t want to keep making the same mistakes and I think that’s where we don’t want to lose focus.”
With about 11:00 minutes left and the Clippers up 4-3 early in the first quarter, there was a sequence that would ultimately end up defining the game. The ball went from the right side of the floor for the Clippers to the middle to the left corner ending in a J.J. Redick three-pointer. The ball movement – specifically how crisp it was – set the Clippers up to dominate on both ends of the floor as the game went on.
“There was not a great cohesive energy to our team tonight,” Clippers guard J.J. Redick said. “I think some guys certainly brought it, I wouldn’t really say nobody did, since we won the game. But as a team, there was not great cohesiveness.”
A few minutes later, a similar play led to a DeAndre Jordan dunk. While the Kings were competitive for the majority of the game, certain plays showed the potential this roster has on offense.
As has been the case all season, DeAndre Jordan was a focal point in crucial plays on both ends of the floor. Griffin dominates the spotlight, but it’s Jordan’s heavy lifting on defense that sets the stage for the clinic that the offense often puts on.
“He’s one of the few guys I’ve been surprised hasn’t made the All-Star Game,” Pierce said earlier this week, “but I suspect that’s going to probably change this year.”
The Clippers were up 59-55 at the half, coming back after an early 12-point deficit. The two most glaring stats of the first half show the good and the bad; they already had four players in double figures, but the lack of production from the bench – with just four points – outweighed that positive.
“I just didn’t think we played well [in the second quarter]. Honestly, I thought the second unit played pretty badly all game. It’s amazing, it is just going to take time,” Rivers said after the game. “Last game, they were phenomenal. Tonight, they weren’t very good. I thought the whole game lacked energy. I told the guys before the game that home openers have everybody fired up. The fans are fired up, the players are fired up. I told them that this was going to be a game… We just played them. They are going to have energy and we are going to have to produce our own energy tonight. I thought we did it in stretches. I never thought we had great energy tonight.”
The Clippers were able to come back in the first half mainly due their increased sense of urgency. They had just 2 turnovers in the second quarter after a first quarter filled with multiple wasted possessions.
The Clippers were up 83-79 after three quarters, with the bench continuing to struggle on offense. Through three quarters the Clippers’ bench was being outscored 23-7. Every individual or even entire unit is allowed to have a bad night, sure; the lack of production was magnified because Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins didn’t play in the second half due to a sore right achilles.
The Kings continued to battle without Cousins in the fourth quarter, pulling ahead 96-95 with a 9-0 run led largely by Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo. A three-pointer and a pair of free-throws had Sacramento up with about six minutes to play.
The deficit – albeit just for seconds – woke the Clippers up as they reeled off 10 unanswered points (8 by Griffin) to go up 106-103 with just over 2 minutes to play.
“We stayed with it. We fought, but it’s a loss… you have to learn from it, watch some film and continue to grow,” Rondo said after the game.
Rondo led Sacramento with 21 points and eight assists. Gay finished with 20 points. Cousins had 13 points and 9 rebounds in 15 minutes of limited action. Kings’ rookie Willie Cauley-Stein finished with eight points and nine rebounds.
Jordan finished with 15 points and a dominant 18 rebounds for the Clippers. Redick added 23 points on eight-of-nine shooting and Paul finished with 17 points and 11 assists.