Before Friday’s offensive explosion against the Rockets, the Clippers had struggled to keep up amid the NBA’s scoring increase.
They entered the matchup with Houston ranked 24th in points per 100 possessions and 25th in effective field-goal percentage. While all teams combined to average 113.4 points a game during the season’s first eight days, the Clippers were 5.9 points behind.
“We’ve got to play at a better pace,” coach Doc Rivers said before his team had a season-high 70 points in the first half of a 133-113 win. “We’ve got to play downhill better and we’ve got to work the sets better. I think it’s very fixable but we’ve got to do it. It just seems like in practice we do a great job at it, we get in the game the spacing goes away, guys forget the next option, they get more aggressive with the ball.
“So it just takes time. That will happen. And then let’s be honest, we’ve got to make open shots because we’ve got a lot of open shots that we haven’t made.”
The Clippers rank among the top half in drives per game and near the league average in shooting percentage. A bigger culprit has been their three-point shooting, which was 29.3% entering Friday.
“I thought we were a better three-point shooting team coming into it, and so far we haven’t been,” Rivers said.
Hours later the Clippers answered, making 12 of 23 threes.
Forward Luc Mbah a Moute wasn’t concerned about the slow start. Rivers has complained his team isn’t trusting its sets, but Mbah a Moute said that will come once everyone in the rotation knows them and teammates’ tendencies.
“We still have to know each other, play with each other and know where each other’s shots are going to come from and learn the offense,” he said. “I think once we do that then we get better because it’s like now, sometimes, ‘Oh, OK, I didn’t know he was going to pass, I got the shot,’ so you don’t really know where your passes are going to come from.”
Mike D’Antoni knew the Clippers’ personnel well, having coached Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Mbah a Moute during three seasons coaching the Rockets. His connections to the team actually go back much further.
While playing in Milan in 1988, D’Antoni invited Americans he knew from basketball circles to celebrate Thanksgiving at his house. One of those attendees was Bob Hill, an American coaching Milan’s rival, Virtus Bologna, who brought along his toddler son, Casey. Hill’s son is now in his first season as a Clippers assistant, having been promoted from the team’s G League franchise.
“His dad was a great coach,” D’Antoni said, “and that was fun.”
D’Antoni also roomed with the father of Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari, Vittorio, while playing in Milan in the ’80s. Two decades later, as coach of the New York Knicks, D’Antoni got Gallinari in the 2008 draft’s first round.
“Couldn’t shoot a lick,” D’Antoni said of Gallinari’s father. “My first year over there, he was my running buddy. Just a winner. All on the defensive end, played relentlessly. Definitely a farm boy, but a cultured farm boy from Italy.”
Teodosic gets on the court
After struggling to find a foothold in the rotation, point guard Milos Teodosic made his season debut Friday, checking in with three minutes remaining in the first quarter. He had eight points, seven rebounds and five assists in 17 minutes.
“He was great,” Rivers said. “Give him credit, Milos put in the time, he hasn’t been playing, he’s been playing one-on-ones every day, three-on-threes every day, his conditioning looked pretty good. He was phenomenal.”
Left unclear was whether the performance was enough to earn him more minutes.
The 31-year-old Serbian averaged 25.2 minutes in 45 games last season, his first in the NBA, and shot nearly 38% from three-point range while taking five a game. He injured a hamstring in training camp and missed three preseason games, and in his absence rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander emerged in the backcourt.
“I always say, ‘Well, who should we sit?’” Rivers said earlier Friday when asked if Teodosic lost his place in the rotation. “Because he has a lot of good guys in front of him.
“I think he’s such a great ball mover for our team and he’s really the only pure point guard. I guess Shai is a pure point guard, as well, but those two are the only two we have on our team and at times we’ll need that.”