There was one reminder after another, DeAndre Jordan’s teammates showing why the prized center was widely considered to have made the smart decision this summer.
Blake Griffin kept scoring, Austin Rivers kept persisting and Wesley Johnson kept wowing Wednesday night at Staples Center as the Clippers soundly defeated the same team they had beaten in free agency.
The drama involving the team Jordan famously spurned after a five-day commitment had ended long before the Clippers completed a 104-88 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in their home opener.
Jordan appeared to be one happy Clippers camper as he watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench alongside his fellow starters, cheering and laughing as his teammates built leads as large as 28 points.
Clippers > Mavericks seemed like a fair assessment on a night Dallas owner Mark Cuban zinged his newfound foe by telling reporters “the Clippers are the Clippers.”
That didn’t seem to be a bad thing Wednesday.
Griffin earned some “MVP!” chants while shooting free throws in the third quarter and did nothing to dispel the notion, finishing with 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. Jordan had 15 rebounds and six points and Jamal Crawford added 15 points off the bench.
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers offered a succinct explanation for his team’s apparent improvement from one year ago.
“We have more players,” Rivers said. “Right now we’re in a great place. We have to stay there.”
The crowd was buzzing after Austin Rivers’ 26-foot jumper beat the third-quarter buzzer to give the Clippers an 85-68 lead. Then came an unexpected sequence early in the fourth quarter in which Johnson blocked a shot by Dirk Nowitzki, fed Rivers on a give-and-go layup and took a Crawford lob for a layup.
“That was very exciting to see the plays that were being made,” said Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who had a relatively quiet nine points and five assists. “It was fun.”
Rivers, who finished with 14 points, was the only rotation player to remain on the floor as the Clippers emptied their bench with nearly seven minutes left.
The Mavericks were missing more than Jordan. Guards Deron Williams (knee) and Wesley Matthews (rest) joined forward Chandler Parsons (knee) and JaVale McGee (leg) on the injured list, forcing Dallas to go with a starting backcourt of John Jenkins and Raymond Felton. Jenkins led the Mavericks with 17 points.
The Clippers unveiled a more energized pregame environment, with a laser light show, flashing LED bracelets distributed to fans that lit up the stands and fire shooting out of the basket stanchion during player introductions.
Then came the fireworks on the court.
Jordan inadvertently elbowed Nowitzki in the head late in the second quarter, causing Nowitzki to appear woozy for about a minute. Nowitzki then delivered a hard foul on Jordan, who yelled and pumped his arms as players from both teams exchanged words.
Nowitzki received only a common foul on the play, but technical fouls were called on Jordan, Griffin and Felton.
The Mavericks then intentionally fouled Jordan, who missed three of four free throws in that situation and six of eight overall in the first half. Jordan’s struggles prompted Rivers to remove him on the Clippers’ final possession of the first half, which resulted in a Paul jumper for a 51-43 halftime lead.
The teams won’t have to wait even two full weeks for the rematch Nov. 11 in Dallas, where the tension level figures to be at least a few notches higher.