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This is why pre-season kind of sucks. The Clippers can go to San Antonio, into a building where they have literally never won a game, and come up with a 93-90 come-from-behind win... and it doesn't mean squat. Here's who was on the floor for San Antonio in crunch time: George Hill, Curtis Jerrells, Marcus Williams, Malik Hairston and Ian Mahinmi. What fun is it to beat those guys?
For the game as a whole, the Clippers were actually resting more starters (Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby and Eric Gordon all got the night off) than the Spurs (Tony Parker is the only Spur who didn't play). So the teams were relatively even in theory, with few players on either side playing major minutes. But the mishmash lineup on both sides does little to build chemistry or to answer the big questions.
The one thing it can do is allow individuals to step up and assume a bigger role than they would if the regulars were playing. And in that sense, count this game was a major success. The Clippers starting front court tonight consisted of two guys who were in High School 30 months ago, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. And although I was unable to listen to the broadcast, the youngsters seem to have enjoyed their first start together. They combined for 38 points on 75% shooting and 15 rebounds in 29 minutes each. The kids are alright.
Blake Griffin's made field goals in his first pre-season game consisted of three dunks - and we were plenty excited about that. Tonight, he was 10 for 14 overall, and his shot chart shows a variety of spots on the floor that no one ever saw in Norman Oklahoma. Yes, he made an array of dunks and other power moves around the basket, which you love to see, and which will keep his shooting percentage high all season. But he also made a couple of 20 footers on the game. If he can hit that shot consistently I really don't know how you can guard the guy. But perhaps his most impressive statistic of all from this game is the fact that he had zero turnovers - a 20 year old rookie, in the role of number one option on offense, playing on the road - and he didn't turn the ball over a single time. That's why everyone, far and wide, universally refers to him as Blake Superior.
DeAndre Jordan on the other hand did have turnover problems, with a disturbing six in his 29 minutes. (In his defense, two were offensive fouls and two were strips after he got offensive rebounds; you can live with these sorts of errors of commission at this stage of his career.) But the rest of his game was outstanding. DJ's 15 points, 5 for 6 shooting and 8 rebounds would be impressive enough. He also came up big at the end of the game, which you don't really expect from a 21 year old with a reputation out of college as something of a chucklehead. After missing two key free throws with 62 seconds left and compounding that error with a bonehead foul, DJ came back with a bucket, a lead saving block, and two redemptive foul shots to atone. He easily could have been the goat, but came back to be the hero.
Baron Davis was the only Clipper starter over 25 who didn't get the night off, and that's likely only because Sebastian Telfair was still resting his tweaked hamstring. Baron didn't shoot well in his 24 minutes, but as he did against the Warriors Monday, he led the Clippers out of halftime with some solid play. He came up with a couple of steals, assists and buckets in the third to establish that the Clippers were not going to go away. It's obviously still early, but Baron is showing every indication of being an active and effective leader for this team so far. there's no question that the Clippers have been better - usually much better - with him on the floor so far this pre-season. They were plus 9 in his 24 minutes tonight.
And for those of us who have become enamoured of Rasual Butler at the small forward spot, Al Thornton used this game as a great big "Not so fast." Butler got the start tonight while Thornton came off the bench, but the former followed up his 27 point gem from Monday with a 1 for 7, 3 point stinker while the latter scored 18 points in 24 minutes. During a dismal second quarter, Thornton and Steve Novak (8 points in the quarter) carried the team, keeping the game from getting out of hand. Then, down the stretch, Al scored 11 straight for the Clippers at one point, capped by a three pointer that put them up six. Ironically, his performance could be construed as a great example of why he should NOT be the starter. What he did in San Antonio tonight - providing a potent offensive weapon to carry the second unit when nothing else is working - may in fact be the ideal role for him in the regular season.
It's still just pre-season of course. But I'd rather win than lose. And the performances of Thornton, Jordan and especially Blake Superior certainly bode well for the team.
With four games left in the pre-season, I think we can expect patchwork lineups in the next few - especially with back to back games this weekend at Staples in the "Lakers Pre-Season Shootout", not to mention that I find it hard to believe they're going to play the regulars big minutes against Maccabi Tel Aviv. These next three games will be more chances to take long looks at some of the backups, and to take a last look at the likes of Kareem Rush, Jerel McNeal and Anthony Roberson. Then the last game before the season starts, Friday Oct. 23 against the Hornets, they may or may not want to look at the regular rotation one last time before the real games start.