LOS ANGELES – The Clippers’ season opener Wednesday night was all about being home.
Lamar Odom returned home. Jamal Crawford found a new one.
Together, they were celebrating a grand start to a new season. It wasn’t perfect, but there were signs the Clippers are building something good.
They beat the Memphis Grizzles 101-92 at Staples Center in a game that had the same rough-and-tumble elements of their gritty seven-game playoff series last season. Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph exchanged shoves and glares several times; elbows, arms and legs tangled frequently.
“I expected no less,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. “I told the guys before we went out that when the schedule was released and I saw this game, I was like, this sure wasn’t a coincidence. We knew it would be hard-fought. We knew it would be chippy.”
It was. But in the end, the Clippers relied on their bench, particularly Crawford, to pull away in the final 10 minutes.
The Clippers know they have a formidable group of reserves, but their opener was a clear indication that the bench at times will carry them. Wednesday night, the starters totaled 52 points, the reserves 49.
“If we can get that from those guys every night, which we will, we’re going to go a long way,” center DeAndre Jordan said.
Crawford, signed as a free agent in the offseason after spending last season with the Portland Trail Blazers, virtually carried the Clippers, scoring a game-high 29 points on 10-of-14 shooting and outscoring Griffin and Paul combined (23 points).
“I love it,” Paul said. “But how many nights are you going to hold Blake to 11 points and me to 12? I want to play every second of the game, but it’s exciting to sit on the bench and see those guys play.”
Odom, who received several ovations from a Staples sellout crowd of 19,060, had six rebounds in 17 minutes. Guard Eric Bledsoe scored 13 points and added four assists in 17 minutes. The bench brought an energy that the starting five lacked early.
No one made a bigger impact than Crawford, who is beginning his 13th season after spending time with Chicago, New York, Golden State, Atlanta and Portland.
“I haven’t felt like this since I was in New York, mentally,” he said. “I feel like I found a home. And for me, the last few years, I’ve played on one-year contracts, so that’s always tough. You want to put your best foot forward, but it’s a tough situation to be in. Here, I feel like I’ve found a home.”
Odom, who was the Clippers’ first-round draft pick in 1999, had similar feelings. The game was his first since the Dallas Mavericks severed their relationship with him last season, and he seems determined to prove his lackluster 2011-12 season is gone and forgotten.
Clippers fans greeted him warmly – during pregame introductions, after he made his first (and only) basket and when he entered the game in the second half.
“It’s funny how I had to come back home to find a home,” Odom said. “I got a little emotional before the game. I had to sit by myself and think about how things come back full circle. I’m blessed just to be able to do what I love and do it where you want to do it. Sometimes it’s the little things that make us happy.”
The Clippers are a work in progress. They made 15 turnovers in the first half and 22 for the game, leading to 26 Grizzles points. Jordan had nine, Griffin four.
“We had so many turnovers tonight my head’s still spinning,” coach Vinny Del Negro said.
He’ll get over it. One game is down, more are still to come.
But it’s doubtful they’ll be as intense or as physical as this one.
“If somebody was expecting a blowout tonight,” Paul said, “they was trippin’.”