LOS ANGELES -- When the Clippers had their training camp in San Diego last month, one of the areas Doc Rivers continually stressed was the team’s body language.
When he watched tape of the team last year, he noticed no team in the league had more fun on the court and on the sideline when things were going right than the Clippers. On the flip side, no team showed more frustration and disappointment when things didn’t go their way than the Clippers.
They were a moody bunch that let the score, calls and the ebbs and flows of a game dictate their emotion and performance.
Rivers explained that championship teams don’t do that. They power through adversity and know that things will get better if they stay strong and don’t veer from their system and game plan.
The Clippers were tested Saturday night in Houston. They were flying high after taking an 18-8 lead to start the game and then Houston went on a 20-4 run and took the lead before the end of the first quarter. Clippers players acted as if the game were over. Blake Griffin had his head down, DeAndre Jordan was screaming expletives as he walked to the bench and Chris Paul was quietly fuming.
“I kept telling them to hang in there,” Rivers said. “We started out so well and then it went bad and we went bad. We were all pouting and our body language was awful and I kept telling them, ‘Hang around. Hang around. Hang around. We’ll find something.’ Even at the start of the third quarter I called two quick timeouts because I didn’t think we had the right body language. It’s a good team builder. Hang around and get it going and your defense will win the game for you.”
Griffin admitted that it isn’t always easy to correct bad body language when things don’t go right. He has been responding the same way to bad calls and missed shots since he was in high school but he and the team are slowly beginning to learn to see the big picture and not dwell on one bad play.
“I know I have a bad habit when things aren’t going right to hang my head a little bit,” Griffin said. “I don’t think anybody does it in a way that they’re trying to reflect on their teammates. We’re just disappointed. Guys want to play well and they want to execute but we have to know we’re never out of a game. You can see on the film, the difference between good body language and bad body language.”
On Saturday, the Clippers’ body language changed, surprisingly, because of their improved defense, which has been the team’s Achilles heel so far this season. The Clippers have been scoring a league-high 110 points per game but have also been giving up 106.3 points, making them one of only four teams in the league giving up at least 106 points per game.
They had been the worst in the league before holding Houston to 94 points and only giving up 39 points in the second half, and 9 points in the last four minutes of the game.
“Our defensive intensity was better,” Paul said. “It’s a long game. I watch more basketball than anybody and it’s like watching a game on League Pass. I’m watching and flipping through the channels and you think a game is over and then you see on the scroll that it’s a two-point game. That’s just how it goes sometimes and you have to find a way to win it.”
It’s too early to tell if that was simply a one-game turnaround or something more but Rivers thinks it’s something the Clippers can build on.
“We knew what we were not doing and to a man they started doing it better,” Rivers said. “They started getting into the ball better, getting over picks and our talking got better . . . When we missed shots we came back and got a stop. There was a lot of pouting and all that stuff and fortunately we caught ourselves.”