Doc Rivers could probably make millions on the damage-control circuit. His Clippers won a playoff series against the Golden State Warriors while ensnared in the Donald Sterling fiasco and continue to win amid a recent brouhaha in which All-Star forward Blake Griffin punched a team assistant equipment manager.
The Clippers’ 120-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday at Staples Center gave them 15 wins in 18 games since Griffin was sidelined by a quadriceps injury and now a broken hand. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. The Clippers’ bench continues to come up big. A reserve lineup of smallish stature has included three and occasionally four guards in recent games. Whatever you call it, it’s working.
Jamal Crawford was the latest second-stringer to be worthy of top billing, scoring 12 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter as the Clippers turned a close game into a rout. Austin Rivers scored 16 points on five-for-seven shooting and Wesley Johnson added 11 points as the Clippers reserves outscored their Bulls counterparts, 58-18.
2. DeAndre Jordan is still capably manning the middle. He did seemingly everything against the Bulls, his across-the-board play reflected in a statistical line of 20 rebounds, 17 points, four assists, four blocks and one steal. “Dimes!” Jordan said of his assists. His most impressive statistic might have been collecting 12 rebounds in the first quarter.
“We need him as much as anyone because he’s probably the only guy whose minutes may be going up a little bit” with Griffin out, Doc Rivers said. “I don’t know that, it’s just visually I’m saying that, but we need him. We need his energy right now.”
3. Paul Pierce was out of rhythm but it didn’t matter. The veteran forward’s two-day break, which included sitting out a game against the Lakers on Friday, didn’t seem to rejuvenate him. Pierce missed all six of his shots against the Bulls, including five three-pointers, going scoreless with two assists and one rebound in 15 minutes.
He also struggled defensively, with the Clippers putting Wesley Johnson into the game only 5 1/2 minutes into the first quarter to help out against the Bulls’ large front line. Rivers said the time of day may have had something to do with Pierce’s struggles.
“We just shouldn’t play him in afternoon games,” Rivers said. “I mean, honestly, we’re going to go look at his plus-minus in afternoon games. I don’t know what it is.”
Pierce has played better with more rest, averaging 8.3 points on three or more days of rest as opposed to 5.7 points or worse on less rest. His sweet spot seems to be playing between 20 and 29 minutes per game, in which he’s averaged 9.9 points per game. His production has dropped off greatly while he's playing 30 minutes or more, averaging only 4.5 points per game.
“You just try to figure that out,” Rivers said of getting the most out of Pierce. “Paul is a work in progress because I’ve never had to do this with Paul, so I don’t know if we’re doing it the right way or not, to be honest.”
4. It’s looking more and more as if the Clippers might be able to hold onto home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They are 3 1/2 games behind the third-place Oklahoma City Thunder but four games ahead of fifth-place Memphis, meaning it’s going to take an extended stretch of winning or losing for their playoff seeding to change. Their schedule is relatively favorable until the All-Star break. Then they will have to play the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Thunder twice each over their next 17 games.
5. Griffin’s punishment could be decided this week. The Clippers have completed their investigation into the altercation on Jan. 23 in Toronto in which Griffin repeatedly punched an assistant equipment manager, which could accelerate the NBA’s announcement of any suspension in the matter. Griffin will already be sidelined four to six weeks as a result of the injury to his hand, with a suspension adding to the amount of time he’ll have to spend away from the court.