For Clippers, it takes team effort to replace Blake Griffin's scoring

For Clippers, it takes team effort to replace Blake Griffin's scoring
Clippers power forward Blake Griffin reacts after making a basket against the Phoenix Suns earlier this season. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Maybe the question confronting the Clippers amid their biggest crisis of the season was being framed in the wrong way.

Perhaps it wasn't about who would replace Blake Griffin but how they would replace their leading scorer that mattered most.

Would they come out with the intensity of a playoff elimination game, as if their season depended on winning? Could they zip the ball from one player to another until someone was as open as a 24-hour diner? Did they have the defensive wherewithal to hold a dynamic offensive team under 100 points?

Against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, the answers were yes, yes and yes.

The Clippers compiled close to a complete game during their 115-98 victory at American Airlines Center, giving them a template of how they will need to play to hold their ground in the Western Conference playoff standings. Griffin will be out at least three weeks while recovering from surgery to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.

"Every single night, no matter who we play, no matter who's playing, who's not playing, we just need to have that energy," Clippers forward Matt Barnes said afterward. "We're such a talented team but I think we go through lulls. I think we gave away two or three games on this trip, so we just need more consistency with our energy."

The Clippers won big in the finale of their eight-game trip despite Spencer Hawes, Griffin's replacement in the starting lineup, scoring four points. Hawes played only 13 minutes because his team largely used smaller lineups that placed a premium on quickness and ball movement.

Center DeAndre Jordan (a career-high 27 rebounds to go with 22 points) and point guard Chris Paul (25 points, 13 assists) were the constants for the Clippers but several other players helped the team snap a season-worst four-game losing streak.

Shooting guard J.J. Redick was so determined to return from back spasms that had sidelined him for the previous three games that he showed up 3 1/2 hours before game time so rookie C.J. Wilcox and assistant player skills coach Dave Severns could put him through a workout to show he was ready to play.

Jamal Crawford (22 points) provided the scoring the Clippers needed to offset Griffin's absence and Hedo Turkoglu made three three-pointers off the bench, including one he banked in, for a bonus boost. Mostly, the Clippers passed, passed, passed until they found the best possible shot.

"The ball movement, it might've been as good as we've moved it," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. "There was a stretch with eight passes, nine passes, seven passes, over and over. The ball just found the open guys and we made the shots."

Of course, Dallas wasn't exactly at full strength with Rajon Rondo out with a broken nose and Tyson Chandler (left ankle) and Monta Ellis (left hip) departing in the first quarter and missing the rest of the game.

Chandler's departure opened up the paint for Jordan and he took advantage of it with eight baskets; he also grabbed 11 offensive rebounds.

But just as no one was going to put off playing the Clippers until Griffin's return, the Clippers weren't about to go easy on the Mavericks. Especially on defense, where they held Dallas to 40.7% shooting and 29.4% on three-pointers.

"We have a lot of weapons on the offensive end," Barnes said, "but I don't think we can let the offense predicate how hard we play on defense. If we're missing shots, we've still got to have that energy on defense and I thought [Monday], although we made shots, our energy on defense stayed consistent."

Energy is one thing the Clippers will need to muster on an almost nightly basis with 10 of their next 14 games against teams on pace to make the playoffs, starting Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center.

The Clippers are expected to play at least eight of those games without Griffin, who tweeted Tuesday he would "be setting a record for most consecutive @Netflix minutes watched."

If his teammates continue to play the way they did against the Mavericks, Griffin can keep Mel Brooks' "High Anxiety" off his playlist.

Twitter: @latbbolch