Didn’t see this coming: Lakers win opener handily because bench too much for Clippers

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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.

Kobe Bryant on Kanye West’s comments: “What the hell are you talking about?”

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Kanye West, the President Trump backing hip-hop star, drew a lot of backlash for his comments on TMZ:

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sounds like a choice. You were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned.” 

Mentally, maybe in some cases. But more so physically, with guns and whips and attack dogs and a whole lot more weapons that were all on one side. Nobody chooses slavery.

Tuesday, Kobe Bryant surprised a group of about 300 high school students at WE RISE — a 10-day pop-up festival dedicated to sparking a movement for change in the mental health system — in Downtown Los Angeles. One of the students asked him about Kanye’s comments. Kobe is not down.

“I’m sure (I feel) the same way everybody else here in this room feels. What the hell are you talking about? I think that was my reaction as is everybody else’s reaction….

“The thing about our country is that you have the right to say whatever it is that you want to say…that’s the beautiful thing about living in a democracy. I think, for him, he’s one of these entertainers that’s always in a constant state of growth, he’s always challenging … himself, doing a lot of questioning internally himself…so I just take it for what it is and completely disagree.”

If I need to explain to you why Kobe is in the right here, you need to take a basic American history course again.

Good on Kobe for his comments. More importantly, good on Kobe for taking the time to promote mental health awareness.

“It’s easy for us as people to kind of ignore the emotional side of it,  especially when it comes to things that deal with negativity, things that deal with insecurity, things that deal with fear,” Kobe said. “It’s very easy to take the fear and just push it down, try to act like it doesn’t exist. The reason why it starts with imagination is because you first must imagine the life that you want to have. You must first imagine what it is you dream of becoming.”

Kobe did that, and now he’s got an Oscar. Oh, and a few basketball awards, too.

PBT Extra: LeBron, Cavaliers even series but Celtics far from dead

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If you want to make the case that the Cleveland Cavaliers are in the driver’s seat of the Eastern Conference Finals after sweeping two games at home, you’re in a good space. It’s a best-of-three and Cleveland has the best player on the planet on their side.

However, I still like the Celtics to hold on and win in seven.

I get into it in this PBT Extra, but the Celtics looked like a team that figured things out in the final three quarters of Game 4 (they just couldn’t make up for a disastrous first quarter), and they still have two games at home.

Either way, this feels like a series going the distance.

Did the Warriors deal Rockets a knockout blow in Western Conference finals?

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The Warriors beat the Rockets by 41 (!) in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Sunday.

Biggest playoff win in Golden State franchise history.

Biggest playoff loss in Houston franchise history.

Biggest playoff loss ever handed to any team as good as the 65-17 Rockets.

“At the end of the day, it’s one win,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “It doesn’t matter if you win by 40 or if you win by one.”

Maybe it matters more than Green is letting on.

Golden State was the 17th team to -win a playoff game by more than 40 points. Of the previous 16, 15 – including the last 14 – won the series:

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The only exception came in my favorite playoff series of all-time, the best-of-three 1956 Western Division semifinals:

  • Game 1: St. Louis Hawks 116, Minneapolis Lakers 115
  • Game 2: Minneapolis Lakers 133, St. Louis Hawks 75
  • Game 3: St. Louis Hawks 116, Minneapolis Lakers 115

So, teams to win a playoff game by more than 40 are 15-0 in best-of-seven or best-of-five series. Will the Rockets buck the trend?

They can make adjustments. Maybe Houston’s strong regular season – better than any above blown-out team’s – indicates a rare capability to recover from this. Andre Iguodala‘s injury hurts Golden State. Teams sometimes make historic comebacks from blowouts, including against the Warriors.

But that Golden State ran toppled the Rockets so decisively in Game 3 suggests the Warriors are hitting a gear Houston won’t keep up with.

Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell receive, Jayson Tatum one vote shy of, unanimous All-Rookie first-team selections

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The 76ers’ Ben Simmons, Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Celtics’ Jayson Tatum and Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma were locks for the All-Rookie first team.

The final seemingly up-for-grabs spot? It went to the Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen, and it wasn’t close.

Here’s the full voting for All-Rookie teams (first-team votes, second-team votes, total voting points):

First team

  • Donovan Mitchell, UTA (100-0-200)
  • Ben Simmons, PHI (100-0-200)
  • Jayson Tatum, BOS (99-1-199)
  • Kyle Kuzma, LAL (93-7-193)
  • Lauri Markkanen, CHI (76-21-173)

Second team

Others receiving votes:

The first team matches our choices.

Dennis Smith Jr. and Josh Jackson are the only selections I’d quibble with. Those two were just so destructive with shooting efficiency and defense. To be fair, they were pressed into larger roles than they were ready for on bad teams. But if the goal is picking the rookies who had the best seasons (what I aim to do), Smith and Jackson didn’t cut it.

However, some voters give more credence to long-term potential, and Smith and Jackson both have plenty of that. Other voters are drawn by bigger per-game numbers, which Smith and Jackson produced in their larger roles. So, it’s minimally surprising they made it.

That one first-team vote for Jackson, though? That’s odd – and it was enough to get him on the second team by one voting point over Heat center Bam Adebayo.