The Clippers’ night didn’t start all that unordinary when JJ Redick took a pass from Blake Griffin on the game’s first possession and buried a 3-pointer to give the visitors an early lead.
After all, in six games since returning from a broken hand Redick had averaged 17.8 points and 2.2 3-pointers per game, and Griffin has been one of the best passing bigs in the NBA this season, averaging 3.5 assists per game.
Then three possessions later Matt Barnes connected on a 3-pointer. Then Redick hit another. Then point guard Darren Collison got in on the action. 12 minutes and 41 points later, the Clippers had hit on 7 of 8 from deep and were well on the way to one of their most impressive offensive performances since losing Chris Paul to a shoulder injury earlier this month.
The Clippers made 13 of 21 3-pointers, scored 34 more points in the paint and had six double-digit scorers in a 112-95 blowout win over a Bulls team that had won eight of their last 10 games. The Clippers also assisted on 26 of 41 made baskets, something Doc Rivers attributed to the hot shooting.
"It was our ball movement. That was terrific tonight," River said. "We also made our shots tonight. In fact, we made everything tonight in the first half. It was also the fact that the right guy was taking the shots. That opened it up for Blake. Tonight our passing was great."
Griffin, who admitted he's taken on more of a leadership role while Paul recovers, led the way with 26 points, 13 rebounds and a team-high seven assists in 37 minutes. All four of his assists in the first quarter came from 3-pointers, as he calmly passed out of double teams to open shooters Redick, Collison and Barnes to help the Clippers to 41 first-quarter points.
In 10 games without Paul, Griffin has averaged 5.2 assists, up from his season total of 3.2 helpers per game. But Griffin knew his passing wouldn't lose him more shot attempts. Instead, the Clippers played within the offense and, as outside shooters continued to connect from deep, the painted area became wide open for he and DeAndre Jordan (10 points, 4-for-5 shooting) to go to work.
"We're really stressing the importance of team basketball. When you lose your floor general and guy that kind of has the ball and is calling a lot of the offense most of the game, it changes things offensively," Griffin said. "So really for everybody to be in to the game, to know play sets, everybody know our game plan and what we’re trying to do offensively is big."
Offense hasn’t been an issue since Paul left the lineup; entering tonight the Clippers were averaging 106.6 points in the nine games since Paul left the lineup. But in three of those games – their only three losses in that span – they have failed to score 100 points, and all three games came against opponents with a defensive efficiency in the top-10 (San Antonio, Indiana, Charlotte). It’s one thing to beat up on a bottom feeder in the up-tempo Western Conference; it’s another to shoot 54 percent from the field against the NBA’s second most efficient defense.
The numbers are even more impressive when considering they’re doing it without the NBA’s leading assister. Paul, before the shoulder injury, was averaging 11.2 assists and 25.3 points created by those assists per game. Yet with just one true point guard,Collison, in the lineup, the Clippers’ offense moved with precision, timeliness and found open looks that more times than not went in.
"We have to lean on each other. We realize we have to switch the ball side-to-side, we can’t beat them 1-on-1," Jamal Crawford, who scored 19 points and handed out three assists said. "We do a good job sharing the ball, we look for each other."
And it hasn't just been Griffin or Crawford doing the heavy lifting. Barnes hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, Collison got loose for 10 straight points late in the third quarter and even Willie Green (four points) and Hedo Turkoglu (five points) got in on the action.
Collison, who finished with 17 points, four assists, and one turnover, said trust in fellow teammates has been a key to Los Angeles' success without Paul in the lineup and, specifically, tonight against a stout Bulls defense.
"You look at some of the scorers on our team, we do a good job of adjusting to the other teams’ defense," he said. "We’ve got a lot of good shooters where we understand the shots aren’t always going to be there. Sometimes you have to get to the basket and you’ve got to mix it up. Just read the defense. And I think we did a good job of that tonight."