LOS ANGELES -- It didn’t matter that the Los Angeles Clippers’ 116-81 blowout victory came against a Sacramento Kings team a whose rotation is a head-scratcher, whose best passer is 6-foot-6 backup center, and whose energy and resolve were left on the team bus.
“We needed a win like that,” Blake Griffin said. “To be what I thought was pretty good from start to finish, it’s good for our confidence.”
After running out to an 8-2 start that included wins over Miami, San Antonio (home and away), Memphis and the Lakers, the Clippers have staggered over the past 10 days. They dropped four straight games before recovering on Wednesday night with a sloppy win over Minnesota at Staples Center.Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty
Blake Griffin: Flying high.
On Saturday night, the Clippers found their footing. There were no transcendent individual exploits or a continuation of last season’s juicy crosstalk between Griffin and Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins. This was merely the Clippers performing surgery on a weak patient.
“[The Clippers] were getting anything they wanted on the offensive end,” Kings forward Jason Thompson said. “They had a good lead in the first quarter. We got it to within five, and then the next thing you know they got it back up to double-digits and we could never really come back after that.”
The Clippers shot 54.7 percent, including a 12-for-24 night from beyond the 3-point arc, but what was particularly heartening were the improvements made in areas where the team had been lagging:
Sleepwalking against lousy teams
The Clippers' only hiccups over their first 10 games came in home losses to Cleveland and Golden State (in retrospect, not such a black eye) at Staples Center. After dropping the final three games of their road trip during Thanksgiving week, the Clippers had a get-well game scheduled against the New Orleans Hornets, but were shellacked by the Southwest Division’s cellar dwellers. The Kings are a unique brand of bad, though, a team ranked in the bottom third in the NBA in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, rebounding percentage, assist rate and true shooting percentage. The Clippers wouldn’t be caught off-guard on this night.
Protecting the Ball
Coming into Saturday, the Clippers ranked 28th out of 30 teams in turnover rate, far and away the oddest development of their young season. They finished 3rd in the league last season, and Chris Paul teams almost always reside among the league leaders. On Saturday, the Clippers coughed up only five possessions, their lowest total of the season. “I thought we did a good job of not turning the ball over a lot,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.
The Clippers have been scrapping hard on defense and refining their rotations, but they’ve still had trouble containing penetration. The result has been a steady procession to the foul line for their opponents. Only the Kings have fielded a worse opponent free throw rate (that’s free throws attempted divided by field goals attempted). On Saturday, the Clippers racked up a relatively modest 15 personal fouls, resulting in only 18 free throw attempts for Sacramento.
The bench revitalized
It remains to be seen if The Tribe Called Bench handle will stick for the Clippers’ reserves, but after teetering during the Clippers’ recent bumpy road, the second unit fueled the Clippers on Saturday. All six bench players finished 50 percent or better from the field for a collective shooting percentage of 57.1 percent. Jamal Crawford led the Clippers with 17 points, while Eric Bledsoe added 14, and Matt Barnes 12.
The Clippers had moderate success on the glass in the win, another sore point for a team that finished seventh in the league in rebounding rate in 2011-12, but is sitting a hair below league average through 16 games this season.
DeAndre Jordan, who Chris Paul insists is the team’s bellwether, was also active offensively, scoring 13 points.
“D.J. is a problem in the post if he catches the ball deep in the lane,” Paul said. “There are only a few guys in the league who can catch the ball in the lane, jump straight up in the air and turn and dunk on you.”
The Clippers also entertained their sellout crowd with the usual sequence of acrobatics. The most impressive physical feat of the night actually came on an attempted -- but ultimately unsuccessful -- dunk in the first quarter when Bledsoe fed Griffin a lob on a break. Griffin was fouled by Aaron Brooks while soaring for the one-handed throwdown from the left side of the rim. The foul call came late, and the intervening silence between contact and whistle almost sent Griffin into anaphylactic shock.
“It would’ve been a real nice make,” Paul said. “The craziest part was that it almost wasn’t [called] a foul. Thank goodness [game official] Eric [Lewis] called it right there. You can’t blame the official over there, Scott [Twardoski] because I think he got caught looking, like, ‘Woooow!’ [Brooks] took Blake’s arm off and he forgot to call the foul.