The result we saw was not supposed to happen. I'm not really sure there was anyone who thought the Clippers would actually win tonight. On my way home from work, I had to listen to John Ireland say that 4-10 was a forgone conclusion for the Clips, over and over, but in an overly-cocky, big brother laker fan kind of way. But it was hard to argue, the only real case you could make for a Clipper win was that Denver was struggling a bit on the road, and even less likely, that Dunleavy was again sitting on the hot seat, and maybe that would encite some fireworks from the team that had been laying dormant for whatever reason.
In one of the more exciting games we've seen in recent memory, the Clippers appeared to play for their coaches job. In the first half, the 1st and 2nd unit were like two sides of a football team desperate to achieve the same goal. The first several minutes did not look good at all, in fact the early 10 point deficit felt almost inevitable and final. But the starters were able to gain some traction, and then sustain some momentum before giving way to an improbable 2nd unit of Telfair, Butler, Collins, Smith, & DeAndre (+17 on the night) that played about the best 8 minutes of basketball we've seen from a Clippers 2nd team, ever. Telfairs' ability to take it to the rim and score the ball and yet also look for his teammates was key...DJ's energy in the form of emphatic dunks & rebounding gave them a swagger, and then there was Smith and Mardys' steadiness, but it was Butler, as if trying to make ammends for several unusually poor games all in one shot, who was our mvp of the night. Making crucial shots, including 4/9 3's, taking it to the rim a couple of times, while limiting his turnovers. This was more like what we thought we were getting out of the Phoenix this off-season.
In fact, the wings in general were the teams biggest strength. Probably something we never thought we'd see. In about 95+ minutes of action, Butler, Thornton, Collins, & Davis(2) shot 17 of 33 w/ 5 three pointers, and while making 14 out of 17 free throws for a true shooting percentage of 64%. They turned the ball over only 3 times while getting 4 steals (all by Collins). These are fantasy numbers, especially for our weakest position, and all without Eric Gordon in the mix. Collins has proved deserving of getting some burn, recalling his steady play during some ultra thin Clipper lineups from a year ago. Thornton appears to be morphing into Thornton 2.0, by attacking the rim with much more regularity than settling for the forced outside shot we've all come to dread. But again, it was Butler who had the most to do with getting us our biggest win of the young season, assuming EJ's role of nailing crucial shots, including 3's at key points in the game, and even keeping the defense a little honest by finding his way to the rim and being able to finish a couple times, unexpectedly.
It was a mixed bag for Denver. They got another amazing game from Anthony, Nene & Martin played very solid, while Lawson continues to be one of the most impressive reserves in the league this year. Billups & JR Smith however, pretty much stunk. To say the team played bad as a whole wouldn't be accurate at all. The extra free throws that George Karl wanted so badly, and almost got him ejected, turned out to be dead even with both teams making 27 for 33.
Yet, it wouldn't be a patented Clipper victory, without a good amount of sweating it out near the end. The Clips were somehow able to win the 3rd quarter by five points, but the 4th quarter felt unsteady even before it started with Carmelo hitting a deadly 3-pointer to cut the lead to 15 heading into the final period. Dunleavy opted to give his starters a rest to open, hoping for something close to the kind of production they put forth in the 2nd quarter. But it wasn't to be, as they played about as tight and unaggressive as they possibly could while the Nuggets were smelling blood, quickly trimming the lead down to 10 and then into single digits. It really looked like they might blow right by the suddenly rudderless Clips, but the starters did their best to bear down and Butler hit a crucial three to push the lead from 2 to 5 just as Denver was on the verge of going for the jugular. Then there was that rebound Kaman secured that eventually clinched the game. He didn't look overly coordinated while securing it, but he got it done, in a very un-Clipper like, anti-Kaman like way.
That's the kind of night it was, very un-Clipper like. Maybe it wasn't just the players and coaches that did the job. It could have very well been the uproar of a sleepy fan base that had finally had enough. The team must have heard us, the fans, because they responded with the type of play we've been asking for all along, but so rarely get to see. We can only hope that this is the beginning, and not just a single game like Novak's game winner against the Nets last year. With EJ on his way back, and Griffin waiting in the wings, a Clipper fan is now caught off guard...they now have to actually consider having hope, for what already seemed like a lost season of injured young talent and disgruntled vets, guided by a lame-duck coach.