Chris Paul could nitpick everything the Clippers didn’t do in his much-hyped debut – and he boldly referred to the rebounding as ”horrendous.”
Los Angeles’ prize acquisition would rather envision how special his team might be once everybody’s clicking and has more than 10 days together.
Paul had 20 points and nine assists, Blake Griffin added 22 points and seven rebounds and Los Angeles beat the Golden State Warriors 105-86 on Sunday night to spoil Mark Jackson’s opener as a first-time coach.
”While we try to figure each other out and learn guys’ hot spots and stuff like that, we want to win at the same time,” Paul said. ”We just keep talking about `We’ve just got to find a way to win, regardless of how it looks, how ugly the game is, we’ve got to find ways to win.”’
Monta Ellis had 15 points and eight assists after his grandmother’s death earlier in the day in Mississippi, and David Lee added 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Warriors, who cut the Clippers’ lead to a point at 78-77 with 9:35 left on Brandon Rush’s 3-pointer before Los Angeles pulled away.
It was hardly a spectacular opener for CP3 and Co., though coach Vinny Del Negro certainly will take methodical any day. These new-look Clippers hope to shine as Los Angeles’ other NBA team, perhaps no longer the Lakers’ stepchild.
”We grinded it out defensively when we needed to,” Del Negro said. ”We controlled the tempo in the fourth quarter. I just know we can play better.”
Paul – who nearly wound up with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers before the NBA nixed the trade – teamed with Chauncey Billups and Griffin for the first time since joining the Clippers in a Dec. 14 trade from New Orleans.
Billups scored 21 points and hit a key 3-pointer late for Los Angeles, which plays at San Antonio on Wednesday night before returning for four in a row and seven of eight at Staples Center.
Paul had a quiet first half: seven points on 1-for-6 shooting in 19 minutes. But he came on with several clutch baskets in the waning minutes to finish 7 for 12.
”Just try to manage the game. It’s not my first rodeo, it’s seven years,” Paul said. ”This is the first year I think I’ve had as many options as I do.”
Each time the Warriors got close, Los Angeles found an answer.
Andris Biedrins scored on a running hook with 6:51 left to cut the Clippers’ lead to a point again at 82-81, then Mo Williams came through moments later. Caron Butler’s 3-pointer with 4:55 remaining in the third quarter gave the Clippers the first double-digit lead at 63-53.
Many fans among the sellout crowd of 19,596 at revamped Oracle Arena wore Warriors Santa hats, while the Clippers got into the holiday spirit with bright green socks to go with their bright red uniforms. Billups added matching green shoes to his game ensemble.
Jackson, who hadn’t coached at any level after a successful playing career, appreciated longtime friends Chris Mullin, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen handling the broadcast for the final opener on Christmas.
Van Gundy and Breen pulled off a remarkable double dip after beginning their day in Dallas calling the Heat’s 105-94 win over the Mavericks before hopping a charter flight to the Bay Area for the nightcap.
Jackson, with his defense-focused approach, guaranteed the Warriors will be a playoff team after making the postseason just once since 1994. Golden State has been building around the theme ”Big Things are Coming,” and turned that to ”Big Things are Here” for the long-awaited, lockout-delayed opener.
”We are a team right now that plays in spurts. The great teams don’t do that, it gets you in trouble,” Jackson said. ”There are times we look like we really understand what we’re trying to accomplish and then there are times … we look like a lost basketball team.”
Jackson’s Warriors face a quick turnaround with Chicago in town Monday night.
Point guard Stephen Curry started for Golden State despite being questionable after he sprained his surgically repaired right ankle in an exhibition game at Sacramento last Tuesday night. Curry – who warmed up extensively on the ankle and wore a special padded sleeve and brace – was 2 for 12 for four points.
”We understand this is the night when the lights turned on, it didn’t feel like we were unprepared or anything, we just didn’t have our best performance in the fourth quarter,” Curry said.
Biedrins, bulked up by 15 pounds to 256 and determined for a comeback season, had 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots as the Warriors held a 48-43 advantage on the boards.
”I think the biggest thing that killed us was our rebounding,” Paul said. ”Our rebounding was horrendous. Our defense wasn’t as nice as we’d have liked it to be. We were good in spurts. It’s a tough environment.”
Klay Thompson, the Warriors’ rookie first-round pick, scored seven points in 19 minutes off the bench in his first game with Golden State. Owner Joe Lacob predicted Thompson will be in the running for Rookie of the Year.
Dorell Wright’s 3-pointer 4:36 before halftime pulled Golden State within 36-35, then Ellis scored on a driving fast-break layin the next time down to give his team the lead and cap a 9-0 run. The Warriors led 43-41 at halftime after closing with a 15-5 run. They went 2 for 10 from long range to the Clippers’ 3 for 12.
”A win like that, we’ll take it, especially the first one,” Griffin said. ”We’ve had practice for about a week now together. It’s going to take some time.”
Notes: The Warriors paid tribute before tipoff to Ellis’ grandmother, Mary Cole, who died Christmas morning at age 89. Last week, a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against Ellis by a former Warriors employee. The team has said their relationship was consensual. … Clippers C DeAndre Jordan might have wound up with the Warriors had Los Angeles not matched Golden State’s four-year, $42.7 million offer earlier this month. ”It would’ve been great to play with Monta and Stephen and those guys but the Clippers matched and I’m happy I’m here and I’ll be grateful to those guys (Warriors front office) the rest of my career,” said Jordan, who scored in the first quarter on a pretty alley-oop dunk off a pass from Butler. Jordan had eight blocks, six points and five rebounds. He was 4 of 12 from the free-throw line.