The L.A. Clippers got their much-anticipated 2011-12 campaign underway on Sunday with a decisive 105-86 win over the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers got off to a slow start early on with their new cast of characters, but after an impressive second half, they were able to come away with a win.
Chris Paul, in his first game as a Clipper, finished with 20 points and nine assists. Blake Griffin continued his early assault on the NBA with 22 points and seven rebounds, and Chauncey Billups finished up with 21 points.
The Clippers are off to a good start, but there are some observations that I made about them based on their performance from their first game.
Chris Paul took things into his own hands late
Early on Chris Paul struggled, scoring only seven points on 1-of-6 FG shooting. As a result, the Clippers struggled to get going.
However, in the second half, Chris got it going with some nice passes for big dunks and had a spurt where he got himself three straight jumpers down the stretch to put the game away. This was not much of a surprise, but seeing this transpire live during the regular season made it very clear that he will be the catalyst for this dynamic offensive attack.
Although not a perfect performance by any means, I think that one can see that the Clippers have every reason to be confident that they will play a major part in the Western Conference playoff picture.
It was clear that the Clippers did not play to their potential, yet they still looked pretty good. With the Lakers and especially the Mavericks falling back to the pack, the door is wide open for the Clippers to join the Thunder, Grizzlies and Spurs as top contenders in the West.
It was clear when the Clippers got out on the break led by CP3 and Chauncey Billups—which resulted in powerful dunks from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan—that it energized the team. As is the case with most teams, on most levels, dunks and alley-oops get teams and their crowds going. It energizes everyone in the building.
No team has better combinations than Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Mo Williams throwing oops to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Especially when this team plays at home, they are going to be scary to play if they get opportunities to pull off these types of plays.
From watching the game, I think it was apparent that the NBA is not a video game, and that names and track records do not compute into a simple formula to spit out a predictable output. Assuming they continue to get better with time, however, they should be just fine.
For at least half of the game they appeared to either be out of sync or kind of feeling each other out. This is to be expected when you add a superstar that dominates the ball (for good) in Paul, and a free-shooting, but clutch-option veteran in Chauncey Billups to a team that was already built around rising superstar Blake Griffin. It will take time, but the result should be impressive.
Chauncey's effectiveness is a wild card
I’m as big a Chauncey Billups fan as any, but early on, Chauncey was shooting too much, and it was taking the Clippers out of their rhythm. This is something he has done effectively as a secondary star in the past, but even as their shooting guard and most consistent scoring option, early on I believe that he may need to be more patient with his shot selection, especially on the break with the type of point guard they have to go along with two of the best above-the-rim finishers in the game in Griffin and Jordan.
As the season progresses, Billups' shooting will be important, especially down the stretch in games, but right now, I think it’s important they get as much ball movement as possible. And if the ball is going to freeze, it should be in Paul’s hands or in Griffin’s hands in an isolation situation or in the post.
Their defense was solid as they only gave up 86 points to a very talented Warriors team, but during the game, especially early, I saw several defensive breakdowns that they cannot afford against better teams. They played well enough during the majority of the game that you can trust that this will not be an issue, but if they want to contend in the West, they must defend consistently.
DJ may be the x-factor
Jordan’s development is very important to this team’s success. At a minimum, he must be relentless on the boards and absolutely rude with his shot blocking. He picked up eight blocks against the Warriors, which is nothing short of impressive in Game 1 of the regular season. That is a good sign. Just watching how he closed up the lane and generated fast-break opportunities (which they thrive off of) with his blocks, and his tremendous ability to play above the rim on offense, made it clear to me how important he is to the puzzle.
Griffin is great, no one is denying that, but the secret is out about him. Teams will do whatever they can to limit his stadium-shaking dunk opportunities, so that opens things up for Jordan a little bit to be a major factor on the offensive glass and on alley-oop opportunities. The more dunks and blocks he gets, the better off the Clippers will be. No question.
Randy Foye did not contribute much in the Warriors game, nor did he get much of an opportunity to do so. I think that he is key to the Clippers' success off of the bench. Mo Williams will score in spurts, as will the starters, but especially when Billups is resting or the second unit needs a steady diet of efficient scoring, Randy Foye should be their guy.
Although he has never been able to establish himself as a star in the league, he has always taken advantage of opportunities when presented with them, and he’s capable of getting off. Also, the development of Eric Bledsoe, a second-year player from Kentucky, is key as well.
If these two players can make valuable contributions when called upon, I think the Clippers will benefit greatly. Game 1 revealed to me that there is a place for them in this offense.
Vinny must keep the ship afloat
Having Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups on the floor most of the time is a coach’s dream. They are two of the most respected floor leaders in the game. They are proven as leaders and proven as winners. However, even with them on the floor along with Blake Griffin (who leads by example), Del Negro is going to have to coach this team. He can’t just be a figurehead and roll out the balls.
When the Clippers came out lacking energy early on and looking out of sync at times, it became apparent that he is going to have to do his part to get this team ready to play every night. When I hear “Beat L.A.” chants coming out of the stands and sense the anticipation for everyone to see them play, it is clear that teams will be ready to play them, and they will not get away with coming out flat.
Del Negro is going to have to be very creative with his rotation and having the right combinations out there in addition to appropriately allocating minutes. He must also manage a bunch of stars, which is always a challenge, but luckily for him, he has pretty unselfish and savvy stars leading his team that should figure things out on their own.
The tides turned on this day
I think everyone was a bit thrown off when “Beat L.A.” chants rang from the stands during the game.
This had to have been the first time this famous chant was done at an NBA game in which the Clippers’ co-tenant at Staples Center, the Lakers, were not playing. That chant alone made it very clear that the Clippers are no longer seen as a joke and are now a “big game” on the calendar for most teams in the league.
]This should not be surprising given the talent and leadership that the Clippers have, but the Clippers are the Clippers, and this just is foreign. The Clippers are going to have to bring it every night because they are not going to get favors from anyone over the course of this season after all of the preseason hype.