For a single NBA game, I think I'd rather have my team's two leading scorers than my team's coach. With coach MDsr falling victim to the 'Clipper Flu', Chris Kaman and Corey Maggette returned to the lineup after missing 5 and 4 games respectively. With K2 and CM the Clippers at times resembled an NBA team tonight and defeated the Knicks 103-94. And although Chris and Corey looked a little rusty at times (K2 missed several easy shots, which of course is not that unusual for him, but still, while CM committed 5 turnovers, ditto) they did finish the game as the Clippers' leading scorers with 15 and 19 points. So apparently teams play better when their best players are on the court. Interesting.
That simple observation also explains a lot about the Knicks tonight. They had one terrific stretch of basketball at the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second. It just so happened to correspond with the time that David Lee was on the court. Unfortunately for the Knicks, Lee got into foul trouble and only managed to play 5 minutes in the second half. We know that plus/minus sometimes lies, but not when one guy is +7 and the rest of the team is negative. (Quentin Richardson was +1 when he left the game with a twisted ankle.)
I've read some pundits who worry that K2 and Elton Brand may not be able to thrive on the same court at the same time, and the case of Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry is often cited as evidence that two low post scorers can't co-exist. And indeed, with Lee on the floor with either Curry or Randolph the Knicks look pretty good, but Curry and Randolph together is a disaster. But let's be clear. Neither Curry nor Randolph plays ANY defense, and neither can pass the basketball to save their lives. They're not ineffective together because two low post scorers can't co-exist - they're ineffective together because teams have a difficult time covering for a single one-dimensional ball hog - you can't do it for two. Given that K2 and EB are both terrific defenders and unselfish to a fault, I don't think the Curry-Randolph analogy is valid.
The Clippers built a 10 point first quarter lead, which they squandered in the second. The Knicks went up as much as 14 before a mini run by the Clippers cut the lead down to 9 at the half. The first half for the Knicks featured an unlikely three by Jared Jeffries (he was 1 for 10 on the season and 25% for his career before that) and another by Zach Randolph (career 27%) with 2 seconds in the half. So in a way, it felt like the Knicks were lucky to be ahead. At the same time, New York's leading scorer Jamal Crawford was scoreless in the first half, so there was the possibility that the Knicks would run away with the game if he got going.
The Clippers took control in a 28-14 third quarter that was more dominant than the score indicates. Of the Knicks 14 points in the quarter, four of them came on a couple of garbage baskets when they luckily managed to corral loose balls under the hoop, and Fred Jones made a bail out three at the shot clock buzzer on another possession. Basically, the Knicks got nothing easy in the quarter, which was good to see after a couple weeks of atrocious defense, and a 61 point first half in this game. Suffice it to say, Chris Kaman makes a difference to this team. He had three blocked shots in this game, numerous intimidations, and also shut down Curry in the second half. K2 4 DPOY.
A few other observations -
- Brevin Knight has become one of those defenders who is great in the passing lanes and on the double team, but actually pretty bad on the ball. At the end of the third, after Q Ross had held Crawford scoreless for the entire game to that point, Crawford blew right by Brevin on the way to his first basket. Fine, it happens. Only, Mardy Collins did the exact same thing to him 40 seconds later. Coming up with steals and playing solid on the ball defense are two very different things and few players are good at both. Knight is third in the league in steals per 48 minutes, but he's not a great on ball defender - not anymore.
- I've been pretty lukewarm on Josh Powell on this blog, but he's beginning to win me over. 13 points on 6 for 8 shooting and 8 rebounds in 23 minutes will do that. He had four offensive rebounds in the game, most of which led to second chance points for the Clippers. In fact, he scored 5 straight in a 90 second span that kept the Clippers tenuous lead at 6 just as Crawford was heating up. (Props to Quinton Ross on a great find of Powell against the Knicks matchup zone with 3 minutes left in the game. Q usually looks a little panicky with the ball in his hands in a situation like that, but as the zone cheated toward Kaman on the strong side, Q threw a solid no frills bullet to Powell at exactly the right time and place for a crucial layup.)
- The Clippers went cold in the final six minutes, but they maintained their lead with offensive rebounding. We vaguely remember this sort of thing from a couple seasons ago, but the Generic Clippers have not been good on the offensive glass this season. At any rate, Kaman and Powell grabbed three offensive rebounds in the final six minutes and earned trips to the free throw line in each case. Any of those Clipper misses, if rebounded by the defense, would have been a huge stop that the Knicks desperately needed. Instead it was a scoring chance for the visitors and a momentum killer for the home team.
- With Tim Thomas unavailable in the second half because of back spasms, acting head coach Kim Hughes decided to play the final 2.5 minutes with Corey Maggette at power forward. On the Knicks first possession it looked like it might backfire as Randolph simply overpowered Corey for an offensive rebound. But to his credit, Corey battled Zach as the Knicks attempted to re-post, and he managed to draw an offensive foul as Z-Bo cleared him out with his left arm. It was arguably the stop that ended any hope for the Knicks.