Going into Friday night's contest between the LA Clippers and Sacramento Kings, there was reason to believe that it could have been a trap game of sorts. Not only would the Clippers be playing without Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams, but the Kings had already taken down a handful of giants earlier in the season.
Fortunately for Clippers fans, the team put together its most dominant win of the year in a consistent, all-around effort and defeated Sacramento by a final of 138-100.
LA's season-high scoring night was certainly a by-product of Sacramento's porous defense (which ranks dead-last in defensive rating and points allowed per game), but the Clippers deserve credit for their efficient offensive attack, as well as the way they locked-in on defense in the second half.
After giving up 61 points to the Kings through the first two quarters, LA allowed just 16 in the third and 23 in the fourth — most of which came in garbage time. Coach Ty Lue was especially pleased by the effort.
"That's been a big emphasis the last week or so, just our second-half defense has been really bad," Lue said. "I thought in the third quarter our team really sat down and defended."
It was also a welcome change to see the Clippers build upon a second-half lead rather than let an opposing team chip away at it. The lead sat at just eight at the end of the first half, but grew as high as 33 in the third quarter. Their largest lead of the game — a 39-point advantage — came with less than two minutes to play in the fourth.
It's hard to say just how much the Clippers will be able to take from this game moving forward, but they now have at least one contest they can look back on as an example of what happens when they play a full 48 minutes on both ends of the floor.
As for our takeaways, let's begin with the player of the game: Reggie Jackson.
Reggie Jackson Shines in First Start of the Season
Jackson had big shoes to fill on Friday night with Beverley and Williams out, but even with the added pressure and raised expectations, he had a stellar performance. Don't get us wrong — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George absolutely had better stat lines than Jackson — but his game was far and away the most impressive of the night.
In 18 minutes of action, Jackson logged 11 points (including one HUGE dunk in the third quarter), four rebounds, three assists and a steal without committing a single turnover. He looked in control for the entirety of the game, played loose and with his usual confidence, took smart shots and made all the right passes. In short, it was about as good a game as we could've expected — especially since it was his first appearance in a week.
"I just wanted to be ready," Jackson said after the game. "There's things I can improve on, things I can be better at, but for the most part, I just wanted to find a way to help my team get a win. I think we did a great job of competing today and fighting through adversity."
Jackson also commented on his highlight-quality dunk, saying he "felt somewhat 20 again" and that he's finally getting his legs back under him after dealing with several injuries over the last few seasons.
With no timetable for Beverley or Williams' return, Jackson could be in line for a few more starts over the next week or so. As long as he continues to play the way he did against Sacramento, he'll be a big help for a team that needs it.
Big Night for Role Players
Jackson wasn't the only role player to exceed expectations and step up to the plate on Friday night. The Clippers also got huge contributions from the bench, which combined for 62 of the team's 138 points.
Marcus Morris Sr. had his highest-scoring game of the season, pouring in 18 points on 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc in 22 minutes. Luke Kennard collected 14 points, six assists and five rebounds and drained both of his three-point attempts. Terance Mann had 13 points, nine rebounds and three steals and got his outside shot going.
It won't always be necessary for the second unit to pack that much of a punch, but the bench has been the subject of criticism lately. Most of it has been for the lack of resistance on defense, but the offense hasn't always been clicking, either.
This one game won't mean much in the grand scheme, but these guys certainly look like they're starting to get a grasp on who and what this team is — and they'll only get better from here.
Good Start to a Weaker Stretch
Including their victory over Sacramento, the Clippers are winners of three-straight — their longest streak of the season so far. And with a not-so-tough stretch of schedule coming up, there's hardly a better time for LA to build this momentum.
After this coming Sunday's game against the Indiana Pacers, the Clippers will play host to the Kings and Oklahoma City Thunder (twice) before heading East to play the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and New York Knicks to close out the month of January.
Things will ramp up a bit at the beginning of February, as two of LA's first three games will come against the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics. But if the Clippers can keep winning the games that they're supposed to, that momentum could help propel them to wins over their more difficult opponents as well.