Five takeaways from the Clippers’ 109-98 victory over Portland
Hey, not fair. The Clippers were missing Blake Griffin but the Portland Trail Blazers expected to be at full strength before a pregame clerical blunder cost them the services of C.J. McCollum during a 109-98 loss to the Clippers on Wednesday night at the Moda Center. Here are five takeaways from the Clippers’ season-high seventh consecutive victory:
1. The Trail Blazers made a pregame mess and the Clippers capitalized. Portland Coach Terry Stotts inadvertently listed McCollum, the team’s second-leading scorer, as inactive on the roster sheet the teams must submit before the game, and by the time the error was realized it was too late to fix the mistake. The absence of McCollum deprived the Trail Blazers of their usual rhythm, not that Clippers Coach Doc Rivers was making a comparison chart. “It wasn’t our worry,” Rivers said. “I wasn’t focused on them. I was focused on us.”
2. The ensemble approach keeps working with Griffin out. The Clippers are now 6-0 since their All-Star forward suffered a partially torn left quadriceps tendon, but they’ll obviously welcome him back as soon as possible. It seems hard to imagine, but there’s a chance Griffin’s return actually could disrupt the way the team has played over the last two weeks. Paul Pierce has been a nice floor spacer with the starting group, making 15 of 26 three-pointers (57.7%) while Griffin has been sidelined. Pierce also served as the voice of reason Wednesday as the Clippers lost most of a 23-point halftime lead. “Paul jumped up in the huddle one time and just told everybody, ‘Calm down,’ ” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “Like, we’ve got the lead. We have a tendency as a team, everybody gets a little excited, a little rattled but we’ve got to be cool, act like we’ve been there before.”
3. Austin Rivers seems reborn as a basketball player. The numbers say it all: Over his last four games, the reserve guard has averaged 18.3 points while making 28 of 46 shots (60.9%) and 11 of 17 three-pointers (64.7%). A recent clear-the-air conversation with Monty Williams, who acknowledged making some mistakes in the way he handled Rivers while Williams coached him with the New Orleans Pelicans, has helped. So has a mantra Rivers repeats to himself before every game, though he wouldn’t say what it was. “I don’t pump myself up,” Rivers said; “it’s just a reminder. It helps me lock in.” Rivers said he hasn’t felt this free as a player since he was starring at Winter Park High in Florida. “I’m just back to being confident,” he said. “That doesn’t mean just scoring, it means just comfortable, just out there playing and having fun. I know what I need to do and I go for it and try to be aggressive.” Shooting guard J.J. Redick, a fellow Duke alumnus, said he’s seen a transformation in Rivers in just the last handful of games. “He’s playing at a very high level right now,” Redick said. “He’s given us offense, he’s given us defense. It’s very fun to watch, and as an older player, it’s like I’m a proud papa.”
4. Redick’s pursuit of the elusive 50-50-90 club gained and lost some ground. The guard made both of his free throws and eight of 13 shots against the Trail Blazers but only two of five three-pointers. He’s now shooting 49.0% on field goals, 48.8% on three-pointers and 87.9% on free throws, putting him on the cusp of the numbers that would place him on track to be the first player in NBA history to make 50% of his field goals, 50% of his three-pointers and 90% of his free throws. Steve Kerr met those percentages with the Chicago Bulls during the 1995-96 season but did not have enough attempts to qualify for the 50-50-90 designation, per NBA rules. Redick’s marksmanship despite being a focal point of defenses is partially attributable to his constant movement. “J.J. runs in circles sometimes for no apparent reason when you’re watching the film,” Doc Rivers said. “It’s the truth. We’ve seen him do like three circles that had nothing to do with the play and the [defender] is following him around.”
5. The Clippers hope to do some home cooking. They will open a five-game homestand Saturday against the Charlotte Hornets after having played 13 of their previous 16 games on the road. “It’s real nice,” Paul said of the stretch of games at Staples Center. “It’s important for us to protect home. Luckily, we’ve got some days between games and I’m going to keep saying it: We’re just trying to hold it down until [No.] 32 [Griffin] gets back.” One quirk of the homestand is that it will feature back-to-back day games, including the one against the Hornets followed by one Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans. “We did that last year but that’s crazy,” Doc Rivers said.
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