Doc Rivers likes his Clippers roster because it is filled with multi-talented players he feels he can mix and match depending on the situation or opponent.
After a season in which injuries forced Rivers to use emergency G-League call-ups at times, the flexibility has been a welcome change. What Rivers craves, however, is stability. He believes a reliable rotation has emerged following Tuesday’s 109-103 exhibition victory against Denver at Staples Center.
“Every coach will tell you what they really want is four or five guys to completely separate themselves from the whole group,” he said. “And then, in that group, one or two guys separate themselves from even that group. Then you know who the stars are and you know everything else. … We’ve had some separators.”
That core group includes guards Avery Bradley, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and forwards Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari.
Tuesday was hardly a reflection of the rematch between these teams that will take place opening night Oct. 17. Harris and fellow starter Marcin Gortat rested and Luc Mbah a Moute (calf), a veteran who is expected to join the core rotation, missed his second consecutive game.
Yet it also lent credence to the separation Rivers has seen through four games. The five of six “separators” who played Tuesday accounted for 44 points and 19 of the team’s 56 rebounds in the win against a Nuggets team that was the most difficult of the Clippers’ preseason opponents thus far. More than statistics, those who figure to be part of the long-term rotation controlled their stretches of brief playing time despite in a low-stakes matchup.
“The key guys played well,” Rivers said. “Some of the key guys you can see knew it was a preseason game. It’s hard to convince them of anything other because they know it is a preseason game.”
Gallinari scored a team-high 16 points and had seven rebounds, and Montrezl Harrell added 14 points in 23 minutes off the bench.
The Clippers’ starting unit played the first eight minutes and built a 19-16 lead as Boban Marjanovic, a spot starter in place of Gortat, proved unguardable on the block and competent defending quicker guards in pick-and-rolls that Denver targeted him with time and again in the opening minutes.
The 7-foot-3 center with basketball-sized hands scored six points, grabbed seven rebounds and intimidated at least three Nuggets into altering their shots in his first seven minutes. Marjanovic finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds in 14 minutes.
Milos Teodosic made his preseason debut with 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter by setting up Mike Scott’s corner three-pointer by whipping a pass across his body from the top of the arc. Rivers called Teodosic’s debut “pretty good, sketchy, up and down” and that describes the second unit he was part of.
The reserves struggled to defend, allowing 38 second-quarter points, and a 10-point lead with 10:40 to go before halftime evaporated into a tie within three minutes.
The Clippers’ starters returned for the third quarter and held the Nuggets’ reserves to 16 points before they ceded the fourth quarter to the end of the bench. The Clippers’ lead grew to eight early in the quarter, then dwindled to two with five minutes remaining. Jawun Evans’ give-and-go layup in the final minute helped the Clippers remain unbeaten this preseason.
“I didn’t like our second group in the first half, Rivers said. “The ball stopped moving, they stopped getting stops defensively but then they picked it back up in the second half.”