Clippers have glitz, glamour but finish with gritty season-opening victory
That had all the makings of a thrilling, dramatic, entertaining season opener for the Clippers, complete with a last-minute scare.
New owner Steve Ballmer was on the court 2 1/2 hours before the game, chatting with Fergie, who was doing a mic check for the National Anthem, and pumping up players with hugs and handshakes and that enthusiastic clapping.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was in the house to see the show before the show that had the Clippers kicking off the season with a cool video introduction on the Staples Center court.
It was all a perfect, dazzling, glamorous opening of the new era under Ballmer, who cheered every basket, threw his arms up, did the thumbs-up sign and had his hands on his head when things got close.
The coolest thing for the Clippers was that they got their Hollywood ending, at least for the first game, and won. It wasn’t easy.
The Clippers wore their "Be Relentless" theme well, holding off Oklahoma City as Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick each made a pair of free throws in the final 5.8 seconds to seal a 93-90 victory over the Thunder.
When Doc Rivers walked into the locker room after, he noticed some long faces. He wanted to change that immediately. A win was a win, even if the Clippers shot just 39 percent and were outrebounded 47-33.
And yet, the Clippers still managed to find a way to win. One of those defensive plays came late when DeAndre Jordan got a piece of Sebastian Telfair’s shot that hit the side of the backboard with 7 seconds left.
Griffin tried to bring the ball up the floor and thought he could outrun Steven Adams, who earned the nickname "Superman" from Rivers after he dove for Griffin and fouled him. Griffin made both free throws.
"Everybody has to do it," Griffin said. "It’s a part of being on a team. When it’s your time you step up and make a play. J.J. did the same thing. It’s not something I want to shy away from."
Chris Paul doesn’t shy away from the spotlight, either, and loves to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line. He uncharacteristically missed two free throws with 13.8 seconds left, but Redick and Griffin knocked down their free throws.
Paul believes he and Griffin will usually be in the key situations with games on the line. And Paul said he’d be at Staples Center early on Friday working on free throws.
"Down the stretch in close games, it’s no secret it’s going to be me and Blake, nine times out of 10, we’re going to be in those situations," Paul said.
Ballmer hadn’t been in that situation before, as the nervous owner with a courtside seat near the under the basket near the Clippers bench. He was applauded heartily when shown on the JumboTron. He greeted many people before and during the game, signed autographs and took pictures.
And in the end, he got his win.
@laclippers players are tremendous. We will get better every day but we have work ethic and talent
— steve ballmer (@clippersteveb) October 31, 2014
Now that the Clippers have the season-opening win down, they take on the Lakers Friday. Paul is such good friends with Kobe Bryant that he said they send each other family Christmas cards. On the court, they’re fierce competitors.
"It’s a great rivalry," Rivers said. "In-town rivalry. It’s USC-UCLA in the pros. It’s nice to be a part of it."
And to get all that pomp and circumstance and bling of the season opener out of the way, and with a close-call victory to boot.