Fast Breaks: Paul's Clips win debut, but still have kinks to work out
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Clippers' sequel to the Blake (Griffin) Show of 2010-11 was supposed to start Sunday night, when a Christmas nightcap against Golden State set the stage for CP3 cinema in Chris Paul's Clippers debut.
And anyone who tuned in by the time the eggnog was almost gone might have thought the script went just as expected. Paul, the four-time All-Star who became a Clipper two weeks ago in a trade with New Orleans, buried three straight jumpers in the final minutes to help bury the Warriors in a 105-86 rout.
It was trademark Paul at the end: Paul hitting the one-foot-out stepback after slamming the penetration brakes; Paul losing his defender just in time to create space and deliver the final blows; Paul finishing with 20 points (7-of-12 shooting), nine assists and just two turnovers. But the first 44 minutes gave Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro plenty to think about, as the Clippers either matched or surpassed the Warriors in all the wrong areas and hardly looked like a team worthy of an elite billing.
• Before the lockout came to a merciful end, there was one common thread between the many charity games being held by NBA players all over the country: the stars would sometimes get lost in the ugliest of shuffles.
It's not the sort of look that a newly-revived franchise should emulate with its newest addition, but that was the case for much of the night. Until the end, Paul was either misfiring on his own (1 of 6 in the first half) or watching the recently-acquired Chauncey Billups misfire (3 of 11 in the first half, 6 of 19 overall), and once again the idea that two high-level point guards could consistently thrive on the offensive end in the Clippers' backcourt seemed far-fetched.
The defensive end was a different matter altogether, as the Warriors present one of the few matchups that are tailor-made for this undersized Clippers pairing. Billups and Paul held Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry to a combined 8 of 31 shooting overall and 0 of 9 from three-point range.
• There were few adjectives left to describe Griffin's Rookie of the Year campaign by the time it was done, but the Blake Show once again displayed to us the reality when it comes to first-year pros: they hardly ever spark significant improvement on their own.
The Clippers improved by only three games and finished with 32 wins, after all, meaning he'll be willing to exchange a few dozen highlight reel moments for a veteran-driven playoff run in a Lob Angeles minute. He had just one SportsCenter moment in this year's debut, a lift-off dunk on the break early in the third quarter that tied it 43-43. Griffin eventually found his offensive way after a slow start (seven points, four rebounds in the first half), finishing with 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting.
• Griffin never found his way on the glass and had just seven rebounds, however, and he wasn't alone in that regard. While preseason games are just that, this now marks three straight games in which the Clips have been beaten on the glass. Two exhibition affairs against the Lakers were one thing, but the Warriors' 48-43 edge wasn't as close as it would appear.
The Warriors' David Lee (game-high 12 rebounds), Andris Biedrins and Dorell Wright combined for 29 boards on their own on the frontline, while Clippers small forward Caron Butler led his team with 10 and recently-re-signed center DeAndre Jordan had just five rebounds to go with six points. Jordan, who was offered a five-year, $43 million offer sheet by Golden State that the Clippers matched, was a defensive difference maker with eight blocks.
• The league-wide promotion of "Big things are here" was about as big as it could get pregame, when the Warriors splashed it across the curtain that hung from the scoreboard. But the big thing that Golden State and first-year coach Mark Jackson wanted to come more than anything -- that being free agent center Tyson Chandler -- is playing in New York now and the void down low remains.
Biedrins has been a wreck in recent years, never returning to the 2007-09 form that played such a big part in the Warriors' resurgence. He showed some life early on, scoring three times in the first four minutes as Golden State went up 12-6. Biedrins finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes, but even the eternally-optimistic Jackson knows the limitations on that front. For one night, though, give him his due for a quality contribution.
The Warriors signed Kwame Brown in lieu of Chandler, which isn't all that different from saying the Lakers traded Lamar Odom in lieu of landing Paul. The 11-year veteran had one of his best seasons in Charlotte in 2010-11, but is off to an inauspicious start with his new club after arriving badly out of shape. He didn't even play until late in the second quarter and did next to nothing in seven minutes.
The good news for Jackson is that forward David Lee is receiving rave reviews for his mental and physical state. Lee -- who indicated last week that he's in far better shape than he was last year -- played well in two preseason games against Sacramento and had 21 points, 12 rebounds against the Clippers. He'll always have defensive deficiencies, though, so the quandary of who Jackson pairs with him down low will remain a challenging one.
When Jackson was hired last summer and the nonstop preaching about defense began, the locals wondered what that might mean for the Warriors' offense that has been so entertaining through all these losing years. It wasn't pretty in the opener, as they shot just 39 percent overall and 23.8 percent from beyond the arc. Wright's performance (eight points, 1-of-6 shooting and all on threes) has to concern Jackson the most, as he averaged 16.4 points last season and led the league in three-pointers made.