Five things: Clippers edge Suns, improve to 4-0 on season
The Clippers moved to 4-0 by defeating the Phoenix Suns 102-96 on Monday night.
Here are five takeaways from tonight's game:
Blake Griffin is sorta human
Okay, so he's not going to average 32 points per game on 64.4 percent shooting all season. But 22 points and 10 rebounds is better than what he averaged last season (21.9 points and 7.6 rebounds), and if that's an 'off game' for Griffin, he's doing just fine. Griffin is finding ways to affect games -- a timely rebound here, a block there -- outside of his usual scoring and passing, and it's been impressive to see his evolution only four games into the season. His jump shot is nearly automatic now, which you couldn't say as recently as two years ago.
Second unit saves the day
Once again, the Clippers' second unit seemed to save the day. The bench has certain limitations -- namely rebounding and protecting the rim when Josh Smith is outside of the paint -- but they've done a good job of injecting the game with energy and shooting. When they're clicking defensively, the bench can get out and run in transition, with everyone on the floor capable of finishing a fast break or spotting up for a 3. It's the type of position-less lineup Doc Rivers envisioned when he assembled the bench this summer, and it's playing out as well as he could've imagined. "I thought our bench won the game tonight," Doc Rivers said.
The teacher and the pupil
Whenever Chris Paul faces Eric Bledsoe, his former backup, he ramps up his aggression on offense. Paul only scored 17 points on Monday, but he did so on a season-high 15 shot attempts, which is no coincidence. Though Bledsoe is a stalwart defensively, Paul tries to go out of his way to remind Bledsoe who showed him the ropes in his formative years. There are subtleties in Bledsoe's game -- particularly his change of pace and ability to stop on a dime at the free-throw line and draw a foul on the recovering defender -- that stem from his time with Paul, making their matchups a joyful reunion.
Too many second chances
The Clippers rank 23rd in rebound percentage, according to NBA.com/stats, despite boasting a frontcourt of good rebounders. It's not impossible to win as a bad rebounding team -- the Clippers are doing it, as did the back-to-back champion Miami Heat of a few years ago -- but it makes things tougher on your defense. The Clips don't have the defensive talent to give teams multiple looks on the same possession. That's part of the reason the Suns, who had 16 offensive rebounds, were able to keep this contest so close in spite of their 36.7 percent shooting.
The first big test
The Clippers' next opponent is a familiar foe, the Golden State Warriors (on Wednesday at 7p on Prime Ticket). Los Angeles' primary rival crushed the Memphis Grizzlies by 50 points on Monday night, and look darn near unstoppable. Stephen Curry is playing out of his mind, and an already confident bunch is using their championship swagger to propel them to play even better than they did last season. The Clippers claim to be ready for the first big challenge of the season, but if they endure the same lulls they did against the Suns and Sacramento Kings, the Warriors will break the game open and it could get ugly.
Still, there is reason to bask in their 4-0 record. The Clips traditionally defend the Warriors as well as anyone, and have a solid formula for limiting Curry's 3-point barrages.