In Saturday’s one-sided win over Sacramento at Staples Center, the Clippers displayed all the things they’re going to need in the playoffs, among them depth, timely defense, production off the bench and an ability to change the game through substitution. Tempering all those positive signs, however, is the knowledge that they came against the third-worst team in the Western Conference. But with a stretch of games against the NBA’s top teams coming up, the Clippers appear to be peaking at the right time. Here are five takeaways from the team’s fourth consecutive win:
1. The absence of their best player may actually have made the Clippers a better team. Temporarily. No one, least of all Coach Doc Rivers, is suggesting the team would prefer to play the rest of the season without Blake Griffin. But without him the Clippers have changed their approach and the result has been some of their best games of the year. “With Blake, obviously we play a lot different because we can depend on him,” said guard Chris Paul. “With him being out, we definitely move the ball a lot more. Guys are finding themselves too. I keep saying it is kind of similar to when I went out last year. The ball started hopping, and then when I came back, it started hopping even more. It is mostly our defense right now."
2. Rivers still isn’t done looking for additional help, especially in the backcourt. “We still may sign another player,” Rivers said after getting 51 points off the bench from guards Jamal Crawford (23 points) and Austin Rivers (a career-high 28 points). “I don’t want Jamal playing that many minutes at that position. We need Jamal for other things."
3. Energy is a vital if hard-to-describe part of the Clippers’ game plan. Trailing by 10 points in the first quarter, Rivers went to his second unit and they hustled the team to a 19-point halftime advantage. One of the keys to that turnaround was the animated play of Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who had just two shots in 19 minutes. “Big Baby, he was huge,” Austin Rivers said. “Even his antics, we love that stuff. Once he gets going, there’s nothing you can do. He just brings energy, and it’s contagious."
4. The Clippers are getting red hot at the right time, with six of their next seven games coming against teams that entered Sunday at least 14 games over .500. That’s among the reasons Rivers emptied his bench Saturday, getting points from 12 players, none of whom were on the floor for as many as 29 minutes. “Anytime everybody can get rest, especially with Blake being out, that’s big for our team. Everybody played some legit minutes. Just everybody got their rhythm,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “We have a tough stretch coming up.”
5. Despite all the attention the Clippers offense has received – the team is averaging better than 117 points a game in its winning streak ---defense has really been the key to their success. “That’s where our offense comes from,” Jordan said of the Clippers, who got 28 points off turnovers and 30 on the fastbreak Saturday. “With us getting stops, we’re able to get out and run and limit teams to one shot. That helps us a lot.”