Playing time hasn’t been an issue for the Clippers’ reserves in the playoffs.
At this rate, it may become one for the starters.
They will happily take the additional time off based on the way their backups have played in helping the Clippers win the first two games of the best-of-seven series against the Portland Trail Blazers.
“You could just see it immediately, they had a groove,” Rivers said Thursday. “When I see that, I’m smart enough to know, leave it alone, don’t tinker with it.”
It was a similar scenario midway through the fourth quarter, when point guard Chris Paul asked Rivers if he was sure he wanted to go back to the starters with the bench increasing what had been a six-point lead to 16.
By then, the game came down to playing out the (second) string, with each of the reserves contributing to the Clippers’ 21-point victory.
Jamal Crawford brought his usual scoring flourish. Austin Rivers made a three-pointer at the end of the shot clock. Cole Aldrich was an efficiency expert with eight points and eight rebounds in only 12 minutes. Jeff Green repeatedly got to the free-throw line. Wesley Johnson’s active hands came up with a steal and a block.
Add it all up and the Clippers reserves outscored their Trail Blazers counterparts, 43-10, and registered a staggering plus-89 in the box score.
“For us to be where we want to be in the playoffs,” Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute said, “we need them to play something close to that level.”
The reserves’ heavy production allowed the Clippers to limit the minutes of shooting guard J.J. Redick, who acknowledged after the game that his bruised left heel was “very sore.” Redick is not expected to practice before Game 3 on Saturday night at the Moda Center in Portland.
There was a historic footnote to the bench’s big showing in Game 2. Forward Paul Pierce registered a Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision for the first time in the playoffs in his 18-year career, though Doc Rivers said he was close to inserting Pierce in the fourth quarter.
“I was about to change,” Rivers said, “and Paul was like, ‘I wouldn’t touch that group right now.’”
The Clippers’ bench was supposed to be vastly improved this season. Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson were expected to lead the way.
Smith fell out of the rotation by late December and was traded a month later. Stephenson was as erratic as one of his hesitation moves after dancing with his dribble on the perimeter. He was gone by February.
The reserves became such a force that they nearly defeated Oklahoma City late last month while most of the starters remained in Los Angeles to rest. A contingent of nine Clippers that included only one starter went on to beat Utah in overtime earlier this month.
The backups also routinely increased leads, allowing the starters to sit out the fourth quarters of five of the final eight regular-season games in which they played. It almost happened again Wednesday against the Trail Blazers.
“They just go out and play, that’s what’s awesome about them,” Griffin said. “They don’t feel the need that they’re not getting as much shine or this and that, they just go out and play and take care of games like they did [Wednesday] night for us.”