LOS ANGELES — Just a little more than an hour before the season tipped off for his Clippers, the team’s new coach Doc Rivers talked about building a winning culture, a swagger, for an organization that never really had it. In Boston that tradition came with the carpet (and the banners), with the Clippers that is something that needs to be forged from scratch.
“Eventually. Hopefully. I think a swagger is gained,” Rivers said. “But hopefully someday.”
Safe to say that is still a work in progress.
His Clippers lost their defensive composure and had no answer for a Lakers bench that scored 76 points on the night — including the Lakers’ final 46 of the game when coach Mike D’Antoni never put his starters back in for the fourth quarter — and the Lakers pulled away in the final frame for a comfortable 116-103 win.
The Lakers’ bench lineup of Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill owned the fourth quarter scoring 41 points on 65.2 percent shooting, and had an off-the-charts offensive rating of 154.6 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com, for comparison the best offense in the NBA last season was Miami at 110.3). The Lakers took charge of the game in that final frame and got the win.
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It’s just one game out of a long season of 82, and we can debate if this is a sustainable way to win, but for a night the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers got to gloat a little and silence all the doubters.
“We definitely knew there were a lot of doubters out there,” said Jordan Hill, who had 12 points and 7 offensive rebounds, dominating the more heralded Clippers front line. “We just didn’t let it get to us. We still knew what we had to do. We’re still trying to win and we’re still trying to compete for the playoffs so we just went out there and felt like it was another big game and we got the win.
The Lakers starters were just 12-of-33 shooting (although Pau Gasol looked like he was at home as the offense’s focal point), but it was the Lakers bench that showed what D’Antoni means when he says the “ball finds energy” — the Lakers played free, shared the rock, played faster and just overwhelmed the Clippers defense (particularly the bench defense, which was atrocious).
The Lakers were led by Jordan Farmar’s dribble penetration on his way to 16 points, Hill’s effort on the boards and Xavier Henry’s career best 22 points.
“You don’t have to have one guy be the star every night, everybody’s has a chance and everybody’s playing right, and everybody is rooting for everybody else,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni after the game. “It’s just a positive energy. That’s the biggest thing, you could just feel it, you could feel the energy and everybody rooting for everybody. It was a little bit different last year where it was like cold. This time it was pretty warm.”
The Clippers looked at spots like they could pull away during the first three quarters, but they never could really get their small lead comfortably into double digits. For example, in the first quarter J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan (mostly finishing alley-oops) went 10-of-14 and finished with 22 points combined as the Clippers put up 30 points on 59.1 percent shooting in that frame alone. Jordan also was very active defensively to start the game for the Clippers, something Doc Rivers praised him for after the game.
Yet despite that hot shooting the Clippers were up by just 2 after the first quarter, and that was the theme of the night. The Clippers offense wasn’t bad, but the Lakers were playing fast, free and loose and the Clippers defense lost its shape and eventually the game. It didn’t matter when the starters came back in during the fourth quarter for the Clippers, they had no answer for the Lakers’ bench either.
We tend to overemphasize the first game of the season — we know it’s just the first of 82, that the season is a marathon not a sprint, but we can’t help ourselves. And right now, the Lakers feel pretty good about themselves.
A right their bench earned for them.