From Oakland — The season of Great Expectations for the Clippers began Sunday with less than a great performance. Their 105-86 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday was less theatrical than workmanlike, sometimes ragged and rarely polished.
But for a team that experienced so much upheaval with the Chris Paul trade and is still learning to mesh, the positives far outnumbered the negatives, notably their perseverance and a late push by Paul that outweighed their rebounding deficit and early free-throw woes.
"Not every game is going to be just alley-oop left and right," said Blake Griffin, who scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the second half.
"But we'll take a win. If it's like this every game and we get a win, we'll take it."
They're expected to win now, and that's a big difference. They were the nightcap of a nationally televised season-opening quintupleheader and inspired chants of "Beat L.A." from the holiday sellout crowd Sunday at the Oracle Arena.
Imagine that: the Clippers — not the Lakers — generating genuine hatred around the NBA instead of pity.
Handling those new expectations will be the theme of the Clippers' season. Two exhibition games were enough for them to warm up their muscles but not to test their character and develop their timing, and their ability to develop cohesion will be crucial in a season that will be short but could be very sweet.
"I've said it over and over and over. It's going to take time. We have to feel each other out," Griffin said. "Every game's not going to be like a blowout. We're not going to jump right out of the gate.
"You saw the Heat last year, they came together with all those guys. It takes time, and that's what's going to happen with us. We just have to stay calm and use our defense to help win games."
They were outrebounded Sunday, 48-43, continuing a pattern they set in their two exhibition games against the Lakers. Paul's Clippers debut was subdued in the first half, when he scored only seven points, though he finished with 20 plus nine assists and two rebounds. Their free-throw shooting was horrible until the fourth quarter and DeAndre Jordan struggled all night, hitting only four of 12 from the free-throw line.
They also allowed a lead that was seven after three quarters to dwindle to one several times early in the fourth quarter, a byproduct of getting beaten badly on the boards.
"We were bobbing and weaving a little bit," Coach Vinny Del Negro said.
On the bright side: Jordan, who signed a four-year, $43-million offer sheet with Golden State before the Clippers matched it, had eight blocks, matching the Warriors' team total. Chauncey Billups scored 21 points and the Clippers' bench, which seems thin, contributed 25 points, led by eight each from Mo Williams and Brian Cook.
While it's good that the Clippers are good enough to inspire high expectations, they now face the task of learning to perform under pressure while also learning one another's habits. And they'll have to do it in the intensified time frame of a 66-game season.
It won't happen overnight, but there are reasons to believe it will happen.
Billups said players are still learning who likes to pass where and shoot where and other quirks that would normally be noted during training camp or exhibition games.
"It's going to take some time," Billups said. "In the meantime, we could just play hard, and have a chance in the fourth quarter, I just really feel good about what we can do when got myself and C.P. out there trying to direct things. … Not a lot of teams have two of those type of guys, and I think it's an advantage for us.
"It's going to take some time but it was good to get this one out of the way."
Asking for patience is asking a lot. But Billups said the condensed scheduled could help. "When I say time, I just mean game reps," he said. "And that's the one thing we will have a lot of is games and not practices. We've got to kind of learn and run and do it on the fly, as does everybody else."