LOS ANGELES — I'll admit, I was foolhardy enough to ask Doc Rivers after his Los Angeles Clippers escaped with a 111-105 win over the Boston Celtics if the result did anything to validate his decision to bounce from Beantown this past summer.
Predictably enough, Rivers, who led the C's to an NBA title in 2008 and within striking distance of another in 2010, scoffed at the suggestion. "I hope you can work on a better question," Doc responded after laughing lightly and furrowing his brow.
Frankly, I don't blame him. What should an accomplished coach like Rivers take away from a victory over a Boston team that managed to make things mighty interesting in the final moments before succumbing to its ninth defeat in its last 10 outings?
It's not as though Doc ditched the TD Garden on a whim, guided by little more than blind faith and a hunch that the Celtics were overdue for a rebuild. He must've known what he was getting himself into when he came to L.A. He came here to compete for another championship with a deep, talented, veteran squad while casting off the demons that had long plagued this forlorn franchise.
That depth shone through in a big way on Tuesday, with Blake Griffin leading the way. He woke his teammates up from what seemed like a mid-game nap with a dunk-like defacing of Kris Humphries in the third quarter.
Blake didn't deign to rank this particular posterization among the myriad he's registered since his NBA debut four seasons ago, though he was quick to credit his teammates for putting him in position to make the highlight-reel play. "Every time something like that happens, it's always the situation that creates a type of play like that," Griffin said after the game.
More importantly, that slam seemed to spark the Clips during a lull that, under normal circumstances, would've seen Chris Paul take over the scoring load. Paul remains sidelined by a shoulder injury suffered against the Dallas Mavericks this past Friday.
Griffin has done well to step in as L.A.'s central superstar with CP3 strapped to the trainer's table. He led everyone with 29 points on just 14 shots, thanks to an 11-of-17 performance from the free-throw line, and kept the ball moving with a game-high eight assists.
Beyond the Twitter-breaking dunks, Griffin did well to diversify his offensive assets—hitting mid-range jumpers in the pick-and-pop, putting his quickness to good use in his face-up game and demanding the ball down low (and getting hacked aplenty by the helpless C's) to start the fourth quarter.
This, after stuffing the stat sheet with 16 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals against the Orlando Magic on Monday.
Not that Doc is asking his All-Star power forward to do anything different while L.A.'s ringleader heals up. "He doesn't need to change at all," Doc said in praise of his power forward. "Blake's been great. We've just got to make sure we get him the ball in the right spots."
Nor does Rivers expect the rest of the Clippers' supporting cast to leave their proverbial lanes—which, thus far, they haven't and, on this night, they didn't. Darren Collison looked calm and in control at the point before fouling out late in the fourth quarter with 15 points, six assists and just one turnover. Jamal Crawford's 26 points came on a less-than-efficient 8-of-26 shooting performance, though he gamely took the late-clock looks that would've otherwise been Paul's to launch and chipped in six assists for good measure.
And that's to say nothing of Jared Dudley's 18-point performance, buoyed by three straight three-pointers in the second quarter, or of DeAndre Jordan's 16th double-double of the season.
Blake, for his part, understands that his success as a big man isn't just his own, but is shared with those in charge of handling and distributing the ball in the backcourt. "We have our best decision-maker with the ball in his hands 90 percent of the time," Griffin added. "As a big man, it's not always that simple."
Of course, the Clippers were far from perfect. They allowed the strip-mined C's to score 59 points between the second and third quarters, pile up 52 points in the paint and shoot 47 percent from the field.
But L.A.'s failures were as collective as their successes were. In Doc's estimation, the key to keeping the Clips competitive without their MVP isn't asking one guy or another to fill the void on his own, but rather for everyone to share in that seemingly impossible task.
Even though Rivers rode Griffin harder than anyone else, as well he should. Absent Chris Paul, Blake is far and away L.A.'s best and most important player, and figures to hold both mantles without any disclaimers in the not-so-distant future.
Griffin's presence is ultimately what brought Chris to L.A., and it was Paul who pushed for Clippers owner Donald Sterling to loosen his purse strings to pry Doc from the C's this past summer. You could say, then, that Rivers wouldn't be here without Blake.
But the Clips won't continue to win and grow as a team on Griffin's efforts and improvement alone, nor would Rivers expect them to. As well as L.A. has played in fits and spurts without CP3, this team isn't going to cement itself among the league's elite without its full complement of players, J.J. Redick included.
Redick, by the way, could be back in time for the Clippers' revenge-tinged rematch against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, though Rivers was unsure of the capacity in which J.J. would return.
In the meantime, Doc is discovering just how deep and capable his team really is. He's witness to the full range of gifts that this roster boasts from top to bottom, that drew him to L.A. in the first place.
He doesn't need one underwhelming win over his old club to grasp that he made the right choice for his career.
And, apparently, he doesn't need some reporter asking about it, either.
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