LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Clippers’ dynamic one-two punch of Blake Griffin(notes) and Eric Gordon(notes) is gradually making it easier for coach Vinny Del Negro to absorb the extended absence of center Chris Kaman(notes) and point guard Baron Davis(notes). Once those two return, possibly by next week, the Clippers should be off and running.
Gordon scored 28 points and, Griffin had 25 points and 15 rebounds, leading the Clippers to a 100-82 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night.
Kaman was sidelined for the eighth straight game because of a sprained left ankle and Baron Davis was sidelined for the 12th time in 13 games because of a swollen left knee. But the Clippers, coming off a 99-95 victory over New Orleans on Monday that snapped a nine-game losing streak, posted consecutive wins for the first time since a three-game stretch last February.
“I was really proud of the way we played, except for the first three or four minutes when we down early and just kind of played sluggish,” Griffin said. “Vinny got into us at that point, which we needed because we weren’t playing like we should have. After that, we came back and played the way we wanted to.
“Offensively, we were just taking what they gave us,” Griffin added. “Defensively, we wanted to turn up the pressure and put the pressure on them to have to make good plays, or get the shot clock low and make them put up a tough shot.”
Two games removed from his 44-point, 15-rebound, seven-assist tour de force against the New York Knicks last Saturday at Staples Center, Griffin once again showed the athletic artistry that no doubt will make the Clippers a more attractive team for the television networks to spotlight than in the past—even if they keep losing.
Displaying a pent-up fury that needed to be unleashed after missing all of last season with a knee injury, the former Oklahoma star and first overall pick in the 2009 draft shot 7 for 11 from the field. He is averaging 19.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in his first 16 games—including nine double-doubles. The only other players averaging at least 18 points and 11 rebounds are Pau Gasol(notes), Dwight Howard(notes) and Kevin Love(notes).
The anticipation of another monster dunk each time Griffin gets the ball in the frontcourt on a fast break has turned every home game into a happening of unprecedented proportions for a franchise starving for success and respect, after years of snide one-liners on the sports highlight shows and in Jay Leno’s monologues.
“He’s one of the bright young talents to come into this league and I think he’s going to have a great career,” Westphal said. “He’s a scary athlete and he’s quite an imposing physical presence. He’s got a work ethic and there’s very few holes in his game. It starts with his tremendous explosiveness. He’s not only strong but he’s quick, and he’s got size to go with all those things. He’s also relentless, and that’s a skill, too.”
Despite all the superlatives Griffin already has received from coaches, players and advance scouts around the league, it may be to early for the snake-bitten and injury-prone Clippers to start planning on a dynasty—or even think of themselves as a championship-caliber team or a perennial playoff contender. After all, they are still the Clippers—a beleaguered franchise that has made the postseason only four times in its 26 previous seasons in Los Angeles.
“First of all, one player can never turn a franchise around,” Westphal said. “But when you look historically at the great players who have come in and taken a team that had been bad and all of a sudden they became one of the best teams—like Kareem, David Robinson, Tim Duncan(notes), Magic, Shaq, those kinds of players, when they’re added to a group they can really take them to another level.”
Carl Landry(notes) scored 18 points for Sacramento, which has lost nine of 10 after a 3-1 start. It was the fifth time this season that the Kings’ high-point man had fewer than 20. Tyreke Evans(notes), who averaged 23.7 points in his three games against the Clippers last season, had just eight points and five assists in 37 minutes and was 2 for 13 from the field.
“The tough thing about them is that at any time, Tyreke (shooting) can get off and get to the hole when he wants to and draw fouls,” Griffin said. “But I thought we did a great job on him. I mean, anytime you can hold him to 2 for 13 — as much as he can get to the hole—it’s great.”
Evans, the 2009-10 rookie of the year, missed his first eight shots and played more than 25 scoreless minutes before getting the benefit of a goaltending call against DeAndre Jordan(notes) on a layup with 4:02 left in the third quarter and the Kings trailing 75-59. Over his last three games, Evans has missed 28 of 37 shots.
“Tyreke is not used to this prolonged period of lack of production, and I’m sure that it bothers him,” coach Paul Westphal said. “He’s too good of a player to shoot 2 for 13 from the field. We know that he’s had ankle problems, but he says that he’s OK. He’s just not finishing plays and he’s not making the decisions that he needs to make.”
The Clippers extended their 54-50 halftime to 69-56 with a 15-6 run capped by Gordon’s finger roll with 6:45 left in the third quarter. Reserve forward Craig Smith(notes) helped salt it away midway through the fourth with seven points in a 1:33 span, increasing the margin to 97-74.
NOTES: The Kings played on Thanksgiving for the first time since 1996, when they lost 101-83 at Indiana. … Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson played three-plus seasons for Westphal in Phoenix. Their first season together (1992-93), the Suns made it to the NBA Finals and lost to Chicago—despite a triple-overtime win in Game 3, when Johnson set a Finals record by playing 63 minutes. … Kings C Samuel Dalembert(notes) ended a string of 15 consecutive missed field goal attempts with an easy offensive rebound and putback of Evans’ short jumper at the 6-minute mark of the second quarter. Dalembert missed the entire preseason schedule, and the opening-night win at Minnesota, because of a left abductor strain after playing all 82 games in each of the previous four seasons.