LOS ANGELES — Doc Rivers’ mantra this season has been process over results.
The Clippers’ coach remains even-keeled regardless of a win or a loss, choosing to focus on how Los Angeles played on a given night rather than the final score.
With a pivotal five-game road trip with playoff implications looming, the Clippers understandably overlooked the lowly Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night. As Rivers is quick to remind the media, it’s human nature to occasionally have an off-day or two.
Despite leading wire to wire, the Clippers’ 106-98 win was anything but impressive. The Bucks’ 26th-ranked offense shot 48.2 percent and turned the ball over only 10 times against their porous defense — numbers far better than their season averages.
Yet even in a near loss to the NBA’s worst team record-wise, Rivers remained cognizant of the bigger picture — the Clippers earned their 13th win in their last 14 games, and are on pace to locking up the three-seed with 50 wins already — and said he isn’t concerned with aesthetically pleasing victories.
"I’m not concerned about the Ws either," Rivers said. "I think they come from the product over process. Going through the process and getting better. I don’t know if we improved tonight, but we have five more games coming up to improve. I don’t get lost in that. I really don’t."
To little surprise, Blake Griffin had another amazing game, finishing with 27 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks and 1 steal. Chris Paul (14 points, 7 assists) and Darren Collison (15 points, 6 assists) paced the varied offensive attack, and Jamal Crawford regained some of his touch with 13 points and 5 assists.
Here are five takeaways from Clippers-Bucks:
The victory marked the Clippers’ 50th of the season, which is still a significant milestone in franchise history. Last year, it took them 76 games to reach 50 wins. This year, it only took 71. Not only are the Clippers on pace to win more games than last season, but more important, they’re also positioned to have a better seed and an easier path to the conference finals. Last season’s squad probably had more depth, but with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan playing at career-high levels, and Rivers on the sideline, L.A. has emerged as a far more legitimate contender this season.
With Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison and Jared Dudley sporadically in and out of the lineup lately, the Clippers’ bench has struggled to find any rhythm. The Bucks took advantage of this during a bench-heavy five-minute span from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the second, using a 18-5 run to cut the Clippers’ 15-point lead to just two. If the bench continues to blow the leads the starters create, Rivers may have to stagger his rotation better. "That’s concerning. Our second unit has to be better," Rivers said. "I think that group right now is trying to find themselves."
Finding the open man
The Clippers’ offense features several secondary options and counters if their primary action isn’t available. Against the Bucks, the Clippers were able to find considerable gaps in the defense, leading to assists on 29 of their 38 field goals (76.3 percent). That, in part, is because Milwaukee has the worst defense in the league on a points-per-possession basis (they allow 108.4 points per 100 possessions). Still, Milwaukee’s defense was noticeably more active than usual, forcing Los Angeles into 12 turnovers through three quarters.
Similar to last game against the Detroit Pistons, the Clippers gave up way too many points in the paint (54) and offensive rebounds (11). The Bucks continually torched the Clippers inside off of pick and rolls and back-cuts from their big men. Los Angeles has the seventh-worst paint defense in the league, which is a perturbing development as the playoffs approach. "We have to do a better job, and a lot of it is pick and rolls. We have to get our bigs up, so they can’t penetrate, and we have to get our guards into the ball," Rivers said.
The road ahead
While the Clippers will never publicly admit it, they took a lot of possessions off Monday and, as Rivers pointed out, were "in and out" of the game mentally. After a disappointing loss to Denver on Monday, the Clippers "bounced back" with two lackluster wins over Eastern Conference lottery teams. Their upcoming road trip is no cakewalk — New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, Minnesota and Phoenix are all playing well — and will determine whether they remain a No. 3 seed or drop past the Rockets to four. It’s time to see what they’re made of.