Five things: Clips squeak by Thunder in ugly season opener

Well, that was ugly. And sloppy. And any other negative adjective one would prefer to describe Thursday night’s eyesore.

The Los Angeles Clippers’ season opener was supposed to be a night to remember — the debut of the Steve Ballmer era, revenge for last season’s playoff loss, a chance to prove they’re on the same level as the Spurs and (healthy) Thunder — but it ended up being a game the Clips would rather forget.

"I don’t have a stat sheet. I don’t need one," coach Doc Rivers said after the Clippers’ 93-90 victory. "It was pretty ugly."

Still, the Clippers got the win. As Rivers reminded his team after the game, that’s all that matters.

"I walked in the locker room and said, ‘Guys, we won,’" Rivers said. "We didn’t play well. I think everybody who missed wide open shots would like to get those shots every single night. And they didn’t go in.

"But what I was proud of was they kept fighting defensively. I don’t know if we win this game last year. Definitely not early in the season because our defense wasn’t ready. Tonight we got stops when we needed to."

Despite a slow defensive start, the Clippers held the depleted Thunder to 90 points on 43.1 percent shooting. 

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With Russell Westbrook checking out midway through the second quarter with what coach Scott Brooks later said was a small fracture of the second metacarpal in his right hand, Oklahoma City just couldn’t keep up offensively — even with third-year player Perry Jones surprisingly going off for a career-high 32 points, one night after scoring three points against Portland.

It wasn’t the Clippers’ most aesthetically pleasing defensive effort — there were plenty of breakdowns, as Rivers admitted — but they found a way to grind out the W, and that’s important early in the season.

Offensively, there were less encouraging signs. 

The Clippers were generally a mess, and when they executed their offensive sets, they usually missed the shots. As Rivers pointed out, they played at far too slow of a pace, which favored the Thunder’s tired legs.

Blake Griffin led the way with 23 points (8 of 18 shooting) and seven rebounds, and Chris Paul chimed in with 22 points, seven assists and three steals. Jamal Crawford had 16 points off the bench.

Still, Los Angeles’ offense sputtered down the stretch, failing to score a field goal in the final 3:34, but they uncharacteristically missed a lot of open shots. Their execution will come in time. Remember, they were the No. 1 offense in the league last season. 

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For now, the Clippers will just take the win in Game 1.

Here are five takeaways:

Preseason woes carry over early

For much of the first quarter, and even the first half, the Clips played sluggish and out-of-rhythm basketball. It looked exactly like their preseason. They were a beat too late defensively, allowing the Thunder to get to the rim too often. Offensively, they lacked proper ball movement and spacing, and frequently ended possessions by asking Griffin or Paul to bail them out in isolation. It was an ugly start, and showed they still has a ways to go until they jell.

3-point clank-off 

Neither squad was an elite 3-point shooting team last season (the Thunder were 14th in percentage; the Clips were 22nd), but they were both abysmal Thursday. The Clippers went 7 for 30 (23.3 percent), and the Thunder weren’t much better, going 6 for 21 (28.6 percent). The Thunder had an excuse, at least. They were missing three of their best shooters (Kevin Durant, Anthony Morrow and Jeremy Lamb) and had only nine guys healthy and dressed. The Clippers, meanwhile, just missed a lot of good open looks. Odds are things will be different next time.

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The Achilles heel?

The undermanned Thunder shouldn’t have hung around as long as they did. They didn’t have enough offensive firepower to score as easily as they did at times. They were without Durant for the entire game, and Westbrook for two-and-a-half quarters. Nonetheless, OKC was able to dissect the Clippers’ D with solid passing, cutting and a breakout performance from Jones. If the Clips can’t contain an unproven scorer like Jones, imagine how much they’ll struggle against teams with multiple dynamic scoring threats. It’s a legitimate concern.

Cranking up the D

With their offense a mess at best, the Clips won on the strength of their crunch-time defense. As Rivers said, they got stops when they needed to. DeAndre Jordan stripped Steven Adams with 20 seconds remaining; Paul and Jordan forced Sebastian Telfair into a contested shot that went out of bounds with eight seconds left; and Jamal Crawford fouled Nick Collison before the Thunder could attempt a 3-pointer to tie the game. "D.J., that’s what he does. He’s just a great defensive player," Rivers said. "Down the stretch of games, you love having him on the floor. If there’s a play to be made, he’s probably going to make it."

Opening night jitters

Chris Paul missed two free throws late. J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford combined to shoot 6 for 26. The Clippers as a whole shot 39.1 percent. As aforementioned, it was flat-out ugly. But it was only Game 1. The Clips clearly put a lot of pressure on themselves, whether or not they intended to. Now it’s about reviewing their mistakes, breaking down film and fixing their shortcomings in practice. "I know we wanted to win," Rivers said. "You could feel that. We just didn’t play great. We have to play better. The good news is we have 81 more games to fix it, and we’re going to try to do that."

 

Follow Jovan on Twitter at @jovanbuha.