Blake Griffin threw an underhanded lob to himself off the backboard, grabbed the pass with two hands and dunked it with such force that the shot clock dislodged from its supports and tumbled backward.
The game hadn’t even started and already things were falling apart for the Clippers.
They didn’t get any better over the next few hours Sunday at Rogers Arena. The new-look Clippers looked like a team in need of name tags throughout a 93-73 exhibition loss to the Toronto Raptors.
The Clippers’ second unit, in particular, continued to stumble through its getting-to-know-you phase. Lance Stephenson missed all four of his shots and went scoreless. Jamal Crawford had seven turnovers. Josh Smith missed a dunk and threw a pass to fans sitting in the corner because none of his teammates were there to receive the ball.
“They’re really struggling,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said of his reserves, “because they don’t know how to play with each other yet.”
Part of it is to be expected from a team folding in nine new players. Rivers said he had designed only a couple of plays for his second unit. Then there’s the theory Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick offered as to why the reserves committed 18 of their team’s 24 turnovers.
“Some of those turnovers are actually because guys are not being themselves,” Redick said. “Like, if you have a shot, shoot it. You don’t have to be so unselfish that we’re making so many extra passes that we’re turning the ball over.”
The Clippers starters weren’t exactly great either. Redick couldn’t sustain his strong start, with only two of his 15 points coming after halftime. Griffin and Chris Paul combined to make seven of 21 shots, with Paul not making his first basket until the third quarter.
Griffin finished with 14 points while Crawford and Smith each had six points to lead the reserves, who combined to make 10 of 35 shots. No one has appeared more out of sorts than Stephenson, who has made two of 14 shots in his first two preseason games.
“Lance is not a great shooter,” Rivers said. “He’s going to be a streaky guy. That’s who he is. I don’t look at Lance as a scorer; I look at Lance as a guy to create plays, and I think he’ll do that for us.”
Fans in a city long without an NBA team cheered for the Clippers during player introductions but did not remain so friendly once forward Paul Pierce checked into the game, showering him with boos. There was a reason, of course. Pierce had helped the Washington Wizards complete a first-round sweep of the Raptors before signing with the Clippers.
“Paul’s been booed since I’ve known him,” Rivers said of the 18-year veteran, who made his only shot and scored two points in eight minutes. “He’s an expert at it.”
The fans were far more receptive to Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry, a whirlwind of activity who scored 26 points on seven-for-10 shooting in only 21 minutes.
Griffin said the shot clock was not dislodged in pregame warmups solely by his dunk. He said a screw hit him in the face previously after he had grabbed the rim and another screw had fallen on a dunk by reserve center Cole Aldrich. “I guess we just kind of loosened it up by committee,” Griffin said.
The same could be said for the Clippers reserves, who exhibited an all-over-the-place feel for a second consecutive game.
“You definitely have to stay patient,” Smith said, “but the competitive side kicks in. We just need to stay patient and just believe in the process, and I think we’ll be OK.”