It was just a hard fought win over a bad Sacramento Kings team, but if you had a checklist of things you wanted to see from the Clippers last night they did all they could to ease every concern. Chris Paul played like Chris Paul always does. Same old DeAndre Jordan was back like he never left. Lance Stephenson's crazy ass actually played an efficient game. Paul Pierce contributed with a clutch bucket late. JJ Redick continued to give this team significant offensive contributions. The bench play was flat out miserable, but it's essentially an entirely new second string. The difference this year is that there is talent there that needs to be given time to gel, whereas last year no amount of time would have have fixed the fact that the Clippers only rostered 8 (probably being generous) competent NBA players. When Josh Smith wasn't blocking shots he basically looked like he had never stepped on a basketball court before, but that's what Josh Smith does. He's a professional blackhole. Hey, every team needs a scapegoat, and Josh Smith looked to fill Spencer Hawes shoes seamlessly on the offensive end, while actually contributing something of note on the defensive end. Austin Rivers was near invisible, but he also had a block on Demarcus Cousins so that's damn near improbable enough to count as a one night workload. All in all, the starting lineup didn't miss a beat, and the second unit predictably struggled in their first real game playing together. Still, the players that Clippers made moves for in the offseason (notably Stephenson and Pierce) did exactly what they were brought to Los Angeles to do, and that should hold this team over until the rest of the roster gets integrated.
No, before you even ask, of course I didn't forget about Blake Griffin. In fact, the complete opposite is true. I think his play was worthy of it's own paragraph. I don't think Griffin's game has ever looked more polished than it did last night, and that includes last year's playoff run when he was basically playing like an MVP candidate. It's like the broadcasters said, he is capable of putting up a triple double every single night. Which, considering he plays with the best rebounder AND best passer in the game, is absolutely absurd. It doesn't seem like too long ago that Blake Griffin couldn't shed the label of being a player who is more likely to get you a spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 then get you a much needed bucket late in the game. Time's have certainly changed my friends. Blake Griffin's jump shot now extends to the 3 point line. There's no more hesitation when he receives the ball at the top of the key. In fact, he was nailing pull up jumpers with ease last night. He was creating his own shot not just in the paint, but all over the offensive end. This coming from a 6'10 bull of a human that runs AND sees the floor like a point guard. A player that is still strong enough to battle down low with any player in the league. The Clippers should be a more well rounded team this year, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Blake is rounding into one of the best overall players in the NBA. If Griffin's career continues on the trajectory that I think it will, I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility to say that the Clippers are the only team in the league with two potential MVP candidates. Only time will tell, but I think that time is set to be very exciting Clippers fans. Last night wasn't a bad start.