Playing freely could be a winning formula for the Clippers
The Clippers could probably use a little more “chaos” in their lives.
That was the word Coach Doc Rivers used to describe the fury with which his reserves played in the fourth quarter Thursday while wiping out a 12-point deficit against the Chicago Bulls.
The Clippers lost the game after the starters returned, but they might have found a winning formula in the process. Rivers went with an ultra-small lineup that featured Josh Smith at center, Lance Stephenson at power forward, Wesley Johnson at small forward, Jamal Crawford at shooting guard and Austin Rivers at point guard.
It worked. So well, in fact, that Doc Rivers admitted he regretted not going to it earlier.
Johnson and Smith each made two three-pointers in the fourth quarter, and Rivers and Stephenson added one apiece as the Clippers obliterated their deficit with a 12-0 run. The Clippers collectively made eight of 11 three-pointers in the quarter, a staggering 72.7%.
It helped that the Clippers upped the pace at a time when they needed to be more assertive with star forward Blake Griffin having been ejected midway through the third quarter after receiving a flagrant-2 foul. Austin Rivers said the reserves needed to play that way all the time and stop trying to mimic the starters’ more deliberate style.
“We just need to get stops and run,” Rivers said. “Everyone needs to be in attack mode, shooting, and living with the results. That way, we have an identity. You’ve got to have an identity to know what you’re going to have every night. I think when we run and gun and play consistently like that, we’ll do well.”
Stephenson was an especially dynamic playmaker given free rein, finishing with five points, four assists, three rebounds and one steal in 18 minutes after having been held out of the first half.
Doc Rivers compared the style of play to what one would find in “a park.” It was a fitting description considering it looked as if Stephenson was back in Gersh Park in his native Brooklyn, shaking defenders and making the game look like a choreographed piece of art.
“Just playing free and playing together,” Stephenson said, “that’s when the game comes easy for everybody.”
The Clippers’ game against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday will be a reminder of an opportunity lost.
Players referred to their defeat against the Nets last season at the Barclays Center after dropping Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals against Houston on the Rockets’ home court.
What did one have to do with the other?
Had the Clippers held on to beat the lowly Nets in a game they led by nine points with 94 seconds remaining, they would have held home-court advantage in their series against the Rockets. The Clippers and Houston finished the regular season with identical records, but the Rockets held the tiebreaker.
A victory over the Nets would have allowed the Clippers to host Game 7 at Staples Center.
“We don’t want to have that same taste in our mouth coming out of Brooklyn again,” Griffin said.
CLIPPERS UP NEXT
When: 2 p.m. PST Saturday.
Where: Barclays Center.
On the air: TV: Prime; Radio: 980, 1330.
Records: Clippers 13-10; Nets 7-15.
Record vs. Nets (2014-15): 1-1.
Update: The Nets are on the way to what looks like an awful season, but they have won six of their last seven games at home, with the only defeat coming against unbeaten Golden State. Brooklyn native Lance Stephenson downplayed any sort of adrenaline rush when asked about playing at home in his sixth NBA season, but Clippers teammate Austin Rivers wasn’t so sure. “I know going back to Brooklyn, we’re probably going to have to give him some Ritalin to calm him down,” Rivers said. “I don’t even want to know how he’s going to be acting in Brooklyn. It’s going to be nuts with that guy.”
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