By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
LOS ANGELES – Monday night was about the Clippers crossing problems off the list.
First, the Warriors, the biggest trouble, the opponent that capitalized on a bad game from Chris Paul and barely a game from foul-ridden Blake Griffin to win the playoff opener Saturday. This time, again in Staples Center, L.A. took control early, played much better and with more passion and cruised to a 138-98 victory that tied the best-of-seven series 1-1 as it shifts to Oakland on Thursday.
But, Paul too. He had received two days of constant treatment for a strained right hamstring, enough of a concern that coach Doc Rivers, typically a clear communicator, was asked before Game 2 about the physical state of his All-Star point guard and said, “Ahhhh, I don’t know.”
Pressed for clarification, Rivers replied, “I don’t know. I don’t talk about that.” And then Rivers kept CP3 on the court deep into the third quarter with the lead in the 30s and played him 27 minutes in all when half that would have secured victory, a clear communication it was OK for everyone in the franchise to breathe again.
And Jamal Crawford. The Clippers had been trying to jump start him for a while after Crawford missed five games late in the regular season with a bad left leg, with Rivers telling his sixth man at the finale in Portland to shoot every time he had the ball, a sure sign of concern since no one before ever had to encourage Crawford to pull the trigger. Making 4-for-8 Monday night with three steals was promising, a response to the 2-for-11 shooting in the opener.
Griffin went from six fouls in 19 minutes to zero fouls — and 35 points and six rebounds — in 30 minute. DeAndre Jordan went from 45 minutes Saturday to 30. But the highlights were Paul getting healthy, top reserve Crawford getting back on track, even starter J.J. Redick getting in another game while still able.
Redick joined the list of concerns because the bulging disc in the lower back that sidelined him for 21 games from Feb. 18 to April 2. He looked good in the opener, with 22 points and eight baskets in 11 tries, and went another 24 minutes Monday. But Rivers made it seem inevitable that Redick will have to sit an entire game at some stage of the playoffs. That’s easier to manage if Crawford has returned to a good place.
“He’s feeling better than what he did, but there’s going to be no hundred percent for him this year for sure and we know that,” Rivers said. “We’re prepared if he has to miss a game. We know that that could happen because that’s realistic. Anybody’s who has had a (bad) back understands that. We’re just going to play him until he says he needs a break. And when he does, somebody has to cover for him.”
The largest margin of victory in the Clippers’ playoff history and the first 40-point difference in the playoffs in the entire league since the Magic beat the Hawks by 43 on May 4, 2010, came with L.A. shooting 56.6 percent and committing 13 turnovers, half as many as the Warriors. It came with a playoff career high from Griffin in scoring. But perhaps most of all, it came with the comfort of the big picture that the Clipper backcourt had a good night amid weeks of injury woes and choppy play.
“It’s very important because that’s what we’ve kind if leaned on all season,” Crawford said of the core group of guards. “We just got back to how we played in the regular season. I think the first game of the playoffs, I looked around the league, most guys are almost too amped for the first game. It happened, but we settled down and played the way we played to get in this position.”
Another problem crossed off.