When the Clippers opened the season 4-0, they won those games by 6, 14, 8 and 15 points. In the 8 subsequent wins prior to tonight, the largest margin of victory was 13, and that was actually an overtime win, so it was far from easy. Meanwhile, in a couple of wins where they maintained a goodly lead the entire second half, the opponents (Denver and Phoenix) were explosive enough that you couldn't really call the lead 'comfortable'.
In short, the Clippers haven't blown anybody out. Certainly not since the second week of the season. Not until tonight that is. 26 points is easily their biggest margin of victory. And I must say I was pleased to be able to watch them win easily for the first time in a very long while.
Some red hot three point shooting by the Kings in the second quarter gave them a four point lead on a couple of occasions. The long ball (they were 5 for 7 from the arc in the quarter), combined with a very tidy four turnovers, kept the Kings in the game in the first half, which ended with the Clippers ahead 50-49. If not for those two seeming anomalies, the Clippers would have built a substantial lead. With Kevin Martin once again under wraps, Ron Artest in his blue mood, and Mike Bibby merely mortal, I thought the game could go one of two ways in the second half -
- if the Clippers truly had those guys shut down, they would dominate, because Francisco Garcia was not going to make every three - or
- if the Sacramento stars were to come alive, the Clippers could be in trouble.
Mikki Moore opened the second half scoring with a tip in to give the Kings a one point lead. It proved to be their last lead of the game. The Clippers scored the next 8 points (making it look easy really), and it was never really a ball game again.
The highlights for Clippers fans:
- K2 was a beast, as he always is against the Kings. In the first quarter, he had 11 rebounds. The game was 8 minutes old before he allowed anyone else in a Clipper uniform to actually get one of their own. He also scored 8 points in the quarter, including a beautiful 20 footer as time expired. Not that we want him shooting out there, but this guy could easily develop three point range if he worked on it. He finished the game with 20 points and 21 rebounds, his third 20-20 of the season, fifth of his career. And he shot 9 for 13.
- Kevin Martin has a twin brother who is a pretty good basketball player. Kevin Martin, the real one, is a potential All Star, and has been one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA for three seasons now. But because of an aversion to Chris Kaman's after shower body spray, Kevin Martin doesn't play against the Clippers, and his twin (a pretty good basketball player) plays in his stead. It's the only logical explanation.
- The Clippers' defensive rotations tonight were text book. After a couple of first half lapses, they were basically perfect rotating in the second half. This resulted in myriad deflections, and 10 steals in the second half alone. Not to mention that Sacramento did not get a clean look at the basket after half time. The team was active and communicative. No team in the league switches off the ball more than the Clippers, and when they are doing it well, it is pretty impressive. On the whole, just a terrific defensive performance. The Kings, a pretty good offensive team, were held to quarters of 19, 15 and 21 points. The one quarter where they scored 30, half of the points came on threes, many of which were NOT easy shots at all.
- Al Thornton is already very good, and he's getting better. He scored 23 points. He got to the line 11 times, making 9. He dished out 4 assists, doubling his career high. He grabbed 9 rebounds, 4 of them on the offensive glass, and he turned most of those into points. He's got a Shaun Marion-like quick second jump, which allows him to get to his own misses as he did a couple of times tonight. It should also be noted that while Al has been lost on defensive rotations many times this season, he looked good tonight. He's going to be a very good defensive player, and I'll tell you why - he doesn't give up on plays. He somehow blocked a Ron Artest lay up on a play where he was totally out of position, and he came up with a steal from John Salmons after he was beaten on a back cut.
- Corey Maggette scored 21 points on 13 shots continuing his string of efficient offensive games in January. But it's his work on the defensive end that is so much improved over last season that you can hardly tell it's the same player. He still gets out of control on offense (he had 6 turnovers tonight), but he's completely changed his defensive game. In fact, he led the team in minutes tonight with 39. It's getting to the point where MDsr seems to think he needs Corey's defense on the floor for the team to be successful.
- It should be noted that Sacramento is not a good defensive team, so they had a lot to do with this - but the Clippers looked more than competent on offense tonight. They ran their sets crisply, and thanks to the generous Kings defense, they were rewarded with good shots.
- The only bad news from this game is the continuing struggles of Quinton Ross. He has not made a basket or scored a point in seven straight games now, and it's clearly in his head. He's 0 for 19 in those seven games, and he's missed his last 21 shots going back to the second half of the Spurs game. There were two incidents in this game that were telling - when Mikki Moore was called for a third quarter T, Ross tried to sneak to the line, just to get a point, to get the lid off the basket for him. (I feel certain that Cassell, who always races to the line when a T is called, told Q to do it.) Interestingly, MDsr was having none of it, though it seemed like a good idea to me. Later, during garbage time, the Clippers came out of a timeout and ran a play for Ross. It was a screen the screener play, and the first screen, Ross on Thornton's man, worked so well that Al was wide open. But Dickau stubbornly held onto the ball, determined to get Ross on the scoreboard. When Q popped up to the foul line, he was wide open for a 14 footer - which clanged off the rim. He finished this game 0 for 6 as his nightmare continues.