The Clippers’ box-of-chocolates, never-know-what-you’re-going-to-get season reached its midpoint Saturday after a 117-108 victory over the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena gave them a 27-14 record, one game behind where they were at this spot last season. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. It was obvious this was a matchup of teams headed in opposite directions. The Kings have sputtered since winning five of their first six games this season, including a six-point victory over the Clippers that feels as if it was eight months ago. The Clippers have been up and down but more up than down given their record. They appear bound for the playoffs and the Kings for another lottery pick.
2. Matt Barnes won the revenge game. These rosters were rife with players who had played for the other team. The Kings’ Darren Collison, Ryan Hollins and Reggie Evans all once played for the Clippers. The Clippers’ Barnes, Spencer Hawes, Dahntay Jones and Hedo Turkoglu all once played for the Kings. But it was Barnes who stood out most, scoring 22 of his 26 points in the first half while making 10 of 15 shots overall. Barnes also had 10 rebounds and three steals, continuing his recent uptick in production.
3. The Clippers showed toughness when they needed to. When the game got tense late, the Clippers made the plays they had to against a team missing its best player in the sidelined DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings tried to counterattack by intentionally fouling DeAndre Jordan, but Clippers Coach Doc Rivers removed his worst free-throw shooter with 4:22 left after he missed three of four free throws. After Sacramento pulled to within five points, Blake Griffin scored five points, Chris Paul made a circus-style layup and that was that. Ballgame, Clippers.
4. The dynamic on the bench was clearly different. Jones has been so active cheering on his new teammates that if he isn’t re-signed after his 10-day contract expires next week then he should audition for the Clipper Spirit dance team. Newcomer Austin Rivers also logged plenty of time standing and clapping when he wasn’t in the game. The enthusiasm seemed contagious as starters DeAndre Jordan and Paul applauded the second unit’s efforts throughout the second half. “The energy, you could just see it on the floor and on our bench,” Doc Rivers said. “It’s really nice to see. Guys like each other. It’s good.”
5. Austin Rivers put his rough debut behind him. He scored only one point and missed all three of his shots, but the backup point guard was much more aggressive, continually driving to the basket and eventually scoring his first point as a Clipper after he was fouled in the second half. Rivers’ defense and steady play as a ballhandler was much more significant as he brought a new pace to the second unit and showed that he doesn’t have to fill up the box score to make the kind of impact the Clippers need from Paul’s understudy.