The Los Angeles Clippers rallied from a 35-point deficit to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers 115-109 in the team's final preseason game on Thursday.
Here are five takeaways from tonight's contest:
And the winner of the fifth starting spot is...
Lance Stephenson, or so it seems. Stephenson started the final two preseason games and played well on both ends of the floor. Playing Stephenson with the starters means he'll be held accountable and won't be able to hijack the offense with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the floor. The move also gives the second unit a better shooter in Wesley Johnson, and a bit more size to help out on the glass. Clippers coach Doc Rivers can still change his mind and end up starting Pierce or Johnson, but the first and second units have flowed with the current rotation, and it's unlikely Rivers goes away from that just yet.
The Truth always helps
Paul Pierce gave the Clippers a preview of what they'll expect in April and beyond when he nailed three consecutive 3-pointers to cut the Blazers' lead to one midway through the fourth. Pierce finished with 19 points (7-11 FG, 5-7 3PT) and the highest game plus-minus (+11). His nonchalant swagger had the Staples Center crowd on their feet and engaged in a way they rarely are so early in the season. The atmosphere felt like a playoff game, or at least a regular season game against another contender, and that's the type of impact Pierce can have.
The Clippers have had some epic comebacks during the CP3 era -- especially at home, where no opposing lead is safe -- but this one is among the most impressive, even when factoring in the nature of preseason. A 35-point comeback, no matter the opponent, is almost unheard of. There was no way the Blazers were going to continue shooting above 70 percent the rest of the game like they did early on, but the Clips clamped down and held them to just 31.8 percent shooting in the second half. "Preseason or not, a game is a game, and we are out there playing for real," Austin Rivers said.
Accepting their role
One of the biggest concerns surrounding the Clippers heading into the season was how certain players would accept their roles given the sheer depth of the roster. Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson could start on at least a half-dozen teams, if not more. Accepting a bench role takes sacrifice and selflessness, and it appears that the Clips are on the same page about doing whatever it takes to win a championship. "Paul [Pierce] is a Hall of Famer, but he hasn't said a word about it," Austin Rivers said. "If he's not complaining, I'm sure not complaining."
Let the games begin
In the grand scheme of things, the preseason rarely matters unless a player gets injured. That fortunately wasn't the case with the Clips, and they head into the regular season with momentum after impressive wins over the Warriors and Blazers. There's no need to overreact -- we knew this team was going to be a contender -- but it's encouraging to see them start to put it all together so early in the season. "We are one of the few teams that control our own destiny and I say that because we have it," Paul said. "Now we need to put it all together and make sure everyone buys in."
The Clippers open the season on the road against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.