It was one of those games from which perhaps the only meaningful takeaway was winning. The Clippers didn’t look good, with the exception of another incredible performance from Blake Griffin, lacking energy, failing to defend for long stretches and seeming out of sorts. But they made the plays they needed to during a 114-109 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night at Staples Center to improve to 3-0.
Here are five other takeaways from the game:
1) Griffin continues to dominate
He had another monster game with 37 points, nine rebounds and six assists, aided in part by the second-half absence of Sacramento forward-center DeMarcus Cousins and some mismatches that presented themselves when the Kings switched smaller defenders onto Griffin. “If teams are going to switch, we’re going to take advantage of it,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. Griffin is averaging 32.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists while shooting 64.4% through his first three games. It’s certainly a most valuable player-type pace, if he can maintain it.
2) Lance Stephenson is filling the Glen Davis energy void
He’s flinging no-look passes, driving the baseline for dunks and generally infusing the kind of emotion the Clippers need, particularly on nights like Saturday when they are lagging. He pumped his arms, yelled in triumph and even watched a replay on the scoreboard of one of his passes that resulted in an assist. “You see him making faces and jumping around, that picks everybody’s energy up, it really does,” Clippers shooting guard Jamal Crawford said. “From a distance, you’re like, this dude’s crazy .... But your team, you want that craziness, you love playing with him and he’s been great for us.” Stephenson’s stats weren’t much — he finished the game with seven points, four assists and two rebounds along with two turnovers — but his presence is making a palpable impact.
3. Cousins going down seemed to also hurt the Clippers
They briefly extended their halftime lead to double digits after Cousins departed with a sore right Achilles’ tendon before some bad defense and spotty play by the bench helped the Kings rally. Sacramento eventually went ahead by one point in the fourth quarter before the Clippers pulled out their second game in four days against their intrastate rival. “In that third quarter we sort of had a letdown,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “I didn’t bring the energy that I could have. Some of those turnovers I had down the stretch were terrible. I pride myself on taking care of the ball and executing down the stretch.”
4) The Clippers’ bench had a lackluster game
Crawford made a few shots on the way to 10 points but the rest of the reserves had a negligible effect and the bench was outscored by its Kings counterparts, 44-15. Austin Rivers went scoreless after missing all three of his shots, Paul Pierce had three points and Josh Smith made one of four shots and committed two turnovers. It was not a winning effort but the Clippers prevailed after their starters pulled them through. “The second unit played pretty bad all game,” Rivers said. “It’s just going to take time. Last game, they were phenomenal, tonight they weren’t very good.”
5) How many consecutive games can the Clippers win to open the season?
They will be favored to beat the Phoenix Suns at home on Monday but underdogs against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland. Here’s guessing that’s where they suffer their first defeat of the season. Griffin talked about how winning one more game last season would have given the Clippers homecourt advantage in the Western Conference semifinals, putting Game 7 at Staples Center. “So to get off to a good start and beat teams like this, especially playing a game where you play a team two times in four days,” Griffin said, “it’s important to get wins like this.”