With a big-time head coach in tow and several shiny new acquisitions, the Los Angeles Clippers entered Tuesday night's season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers as a team many thought could win the Western Conference. Meanwhile, a Kobe Bryant-less Lakers team was pretty much an afterthought, and the popular opinion was that things could get ugly.
Well, things did get ugly, only it was the mighty Clippers on the wrong side of a beat down. The Lakers, led by a bench unit aptly described as an "island of misfit toys," blitzed the Clippers in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a 116-103 rout.
"We were not ready tonight," Rivers said. "I told our guys before the game. Those are pros on the other side and they've been told for months how good you're going to be, how they're not going to be good and they're not going to have Kobe and all that stuff. You know they were going to play like this is the world championship, with that type of energy, and we never matched it."
During the game-deciding fourth-quarter run and throughout much of the contest, the Lakers just seemed to bring more effort to the table, which was evidenced by their 18 offensive rebounds. Jordan Hill had five of those offensive boards alone in the fourth quarter, which led to numerous second-chance three-pointers.
On the perimeter, Xavier Henry and Jordan Farmar sliced-and-diced a Clippers defense that was a step slow all night. Henry finished the game with a career-high 22 points, while Farmar had 16. These are two guys who made essentially zero impact combined in the league last year, and on opening night, they took it to the Clippers' starters during crunch time.
There will be much better days ahead for the Clippers. Nights like this happen in the NBA and there's simply too much talent on the roster not to have success. But Rivers knows the team must be better prepared going forward, because other teams will play the Clippers with the same edge the Lakers showed:
"It's a good lesson for us," Rivers said. "The good thing is we have 81 more games. The bad thing is everyone is going to play us that way. When you're anointed before doing it, people are going to attack you and we're going to have to get used it.
"We're going to have to get used to that energy every night, because people are going to play you like you've won something."
The Clippers will get their first chance at redemption when they play the Golden State Warriors Thursday night in what could be a possible playoff preview. The Clippers' defense must certainly play better, otherwise, the high-powered Warriors will have their way with them.