LOS ANGELES — There wasn’t much to take away from the Clippers’ open scrimmage at Galen Center Wednesday night. It was a sloppy, highlight-filled dunk fest with some 3-point shooting sprinkled in. Chris Paul (thumb), Chauncey Billups (Achilles), Grant Hill (rest) and Trey Thompkins (unknown) didn’t participate. The game even ended in a tie, 31-31.
But that was expected. It’s a scrimmage. Nothing of importance happens in these, barring a catastrophic injury or jaw-dropping play. There was, however, one thing that tonight confirmed.
Chris Paul may be the Clippers’ best player and leader, but make no mistake, this is still The Blake Show. It always has been and probably always will be. That’s who the general consensus of fans wants to see in person. That’s who sells the majority of tickets.
It was a small thing, so maybe no one else noticed it, but Griffin was the last player introduced — a privilege held for the team’s premiere player. For the Clippers, that’s clearly Paul. But that’s not who got the loudest ovation, who had the fans on the edge of their seats and who determined the fate of the game with a pair of free throws.
For a third-year player and a quiet interviewee, Griffin is a maestro of the crowd. He knows exactly what to do to extract the “oohs” and “aahs”. His relationship with Clipper fans is unparalleled; he can do no wrong.
Much to the pleasure of those in attendance, the scrimmage was filled with Griffin’s trademark dunks. Mid-air switch hand dunks, alley-oop finishes and off-the-backboard slams were just a few of the tricks Griffin brought out to show the sea of red, white and blue fans.
Before tip-off, the Clippers lined up on one side of the court to wait for the player introductions by Clipper announcer Ralph Lawler. With a moment to spare, Caron Butler ran to other side of the floor, seemingly waiting for something important.
As it turns out, he was waiting for Griffin to shoot… from three-quarters court. The crowd stood on its feet as it anticipated what was next. Butler was the safety net in case Griffin missed badly to the left or right.
But, of course, he didn’t. He effortlessly fired up the one-handed 75-footer like a football. Swish. The crowd erupts, loses its mind and goes berserk.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Griffin said. “I try that every day and miss.”
Ever since Griffin has arrived, the Clippers’ identity has been their flash. Before Paul arrived, the Clippers were must-see TV because of their youthful promise and unmatched athleticism. Now, they’re good, they’re deep and they’re a helluva lot of fun to watch. And there’s no doubt that Griffin is the catalyst behind it.
• Besides Griffin (11 points), the story of the game was Travis Leslie, who scored nine points and led the white squad. He hit a couple of jumpers, finished an and-1 lay-up and looked comfortable on offense. That’s more than we could ever say about him. Who knows, maybe he can crack the rotation after all. With that said, Trey Thompkins looked good in last year’s scrimmage too, so it doesn’t necessarily mean much.
• DeAndre Jordan’s offense looked much improved. He never hesitated to shoot when open, even electing to take an open baseline 18-footer in one of the team’s scrimmages before the main event. In fact, the first play of the game the Clippers dumped the ball into Jordan, who did a spin move – which looks to be his go-to move – for a lay-up over Turiaf. His footwork’s better and his hunger is there, he just needs to watch those pesky guards who swipe at the ball.
• Caron Butler continued his bad habit of settling for long 2s, instead of taking it to the rim or dishing it off to someone else for a better look.
• Jamal Crawford displayed his lightning-quick dribbling skills, ability to make plays for himself and others, and his questionable shot selection – a lot of pull-up jumpers, long 2s and step-backs.
• Eric Bledsoe disappointed a bit. His shot looked better, but he still played aggressively out of control. It’s good to see he’s attacking the rim, but once he gets there, he needs to make up his mind quickly. Too many times he looked like he wasn’t prepared or didn’t know what to do between shooting and passing.
• Lamar Odom was active on both ends of the floor, knocking down a 3-pointer and playing solid half-court D. He forced things a bit offensively, trying to make highlight plays or passes, which resulted in a few turnovers. But that comes with a scrimmage. Also, he had four fouls in less than 20 minutes, which isn’t encouraging. For the first glimpse of Odom, he did OK. His weight shouldn’t be an issue, though. He’s just as big as he was last year with Dallas, which is a bit bigger than his Laker days.
• Willie Green and Matt Barnes’ role offensively was to just stand in the corner and float around the perimeter. Barnes made some shots (two 3-pointers), but Green didn’t. It looks as if Green may be the starter for now, but if he can’t knock down shots, expect him to be replaced in the rotation without hesitation. In that case, Barnes or Hill would get the starting job and Leslie would likely enter the rotation.
• Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins looked petrified with the ball in their hands on offense. Also, Turiaf appears to be in the lead for the team’s back-up center spot. He’s an enforcer down there, banging bodies and contesting everything in the paint. His hustle was a positive.
• Griffin was active defensively, with a couple of steals by reading passing lanes. Obviously it wasn’t a serious contest, but it’s encouraging to see Griffin’s improvement as a help defender.