The Clippers unveiled a new ad campaign before their season opener, with Blake Griffin dunking and DeAndre Jordan flexing and Chris Paul directing amid a montage of plays shown on the video board.
Then they went out and lived up to the “be relentless” theme Thursday night at Staples Center. They were relentlessly underwhelming.
It took a pair of late defensive stops by Jordan for the Clippers to emerge with a 93-90 victory over the vastly undermanned Oklahoma City Thunder in a flat first game under new owner Steve Ballmer.
With the Clippers holding a one-point lead, Jordan stole the ball from the Thunder’s Steven Adams with 20 seconds left. After Paul missed two free throws, the Clippers needed Jordan to make another play and he complied, blocking Sebastian Telfair’s shot with eight seconds to go.
The Thunder fouled Griffin, who extended the Clippers’ lead to three points with a pair of free throws. After Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison trimmed the lead to a point with two free throws, the Clippers’ J.J. Redick, who made only one of 10 shots, sank two free throws to make it 93-90 with 2.8 seconds left.
Ballmer clapped vigorously from his seat after Serge Ibaka’s three-pointer at the buzzer came up short.
“What I was proud of, they kept fighting defensively,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “I don’t know if we win this game last season, especially early in the season.”
The Thunder started the game without reigning most valuable player Kevin Durant and ended it without All-Star guard Russell Westbrook, who sustained a broken bone in his right hand in the second quarter and did not return.
The injuries left Oklahoma City with eight available players, hardly resembling the team that dispatched the Clippers in six games last season in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Clippers didn’t exactly look like a playoff team either. They reprised their preseason struggles while shooting poorly, playing spotty defense and somehow getting outrebounded once again.
Griffin did manage to shake off a horrid start in which he missed his first six shots to finish with 23 points and Paul contributed 22 points, seven assists and three steals.
Clippers guard Jamal Crawford scored 16 points but made only five of 15 shots, emblematic of a team that shot 39.1%.
“I don’t have a stat sheet. I don’t need one,” Rivers said. “It was pretty ugly.”
Perry Jones finished with 32 points for the Thunder, which was already missing Durant (foot), Reggie Jackson (ankle) and Jeremy Lamb (back), among others, when Westbrook hurt himself on a drive to the basket.
Literally adding insult to injury, Westbrook got into a verbal altercation with a heckling fan on his way to the locker room and had to be restrained.
The Clippers seemed relieved to be playing their first game since disgraced former owner Donald Sterling sold the team, though his wife and former team co-owner Shelly Sterling sat courtside.
Griffin took a microphone before the game and addressed the crowd, thanking fans for their support. “We’ve been working hard and we can’t wait for this season and we can’t wait to share it with you guys,” Griffin said.
The Clippers spotted the Thunder the game’s first eight points before shaking off some early season jitters. Ballmer was nearly as active as his players, leaping out of his seat and excitedly pumping his arms after a Jordan put-back.
His team eventually gave him a victory. It wasn’t one worth savoring.