The terrific SBNation Orlando Magic blog recently changed it's name to the Orlando Pinstriped Post. Editor Ben Q. Rock reluctantly made the decision to move away from the negative connotations of the blog's former name, given the terrific success of the franchise in the last few seasons. The erstwhile name? Third Quarter Collapse.
Well, tonight, the Clippers experienced something far more rare - a third HALF collapse.
Due to an emergency situation (a burst water main in the arena apparently triggered a fire alarm), the FedEx Forum was evacuated with 47.8 seconds remaining in the third quarter. To that point, the Clippers, playing without leading scorer Chris Kaman who was out with a bad back, and without Marcus Camby since the 10 minute mark of the first quarter due to a stomach virus, had played brilliantly. They built a 12 point lead at 15-3 after just over three minutes and maintained that lead through several attempted Memphis comebacks. I want to stress that aside from perhaps the opening moments, the Grizzlies didn't play badly. It was simply that the Clippers, without their starting bigs (and let's not forget that another key big from the roster is not playing either, one Blake Griffin), played better. When the building was evacuated, the Clippers held that same 12 point lead, with Baron Davis owed a second free throw.
After a 36 minute delay, the teams were allowed to return to the floor to finish the game. Baron made his free throw to put the lead at 13 - and the rest of the way the Clippers shot 4 for 18 and were outscored 27 to 12 to lose by two.
Having said all that, I really can't find much fault with the Clippers in this game. In fact, if you wish to believe in curses, this is about as close as you can get to losing a game due to an act of God. After loading onto the team bus, then getting off, then getting on again, and basically just getting cold, the Clippers shooters stayed cold the rest of the way. Sure, the Grizzlies players had experienced a delay as well. But with the Clippers playing severely shorthanded, and on a 14 to 5 run when Elvis' people left the building, it's obvious whom a delay would favor, if it was going to favor either team.
Of the 18 shots the Clippers took after play resumed, eight of them were three pointers. They missed all eight - including a potential game winner by Rasual Butler as time expired. Now, you might say looking at that number that they were settling too much and that they shouldn't be shooting eight threes in a little over 12 minutes of play. But there are a couple of things you have to bear in mind about that. For one thing, with Kaman out, they really didn't have a post presence. That turns the Clippers into a drive and kick team, with Baron breaking down defenses and looking for finishers around the rim, or shooters around the perimeter. It's just the reality of the team with the healthy personnel they had. For another, if Eric Gordon or Rasual Butler has a wide open three, I gotta say, I want them taking it. Gordon's three misses in the fourth were completely wide open - the kinds of shots you fully expect him to make every time. They were great looks - he just missed them. Butler's attempted game winner was also a clean look, from the short corner no less. (Oh, and need I remind you what making any one of those threes would have done to what ended up being a two point Memphis win.)
So I say, move on. The team played great for two halves - and then they fell apart in the third half. I don't think it's worth spending a lot of time analyzing and lamenting the team's inability to come out of emergency 36 minute delays sharp. It's just not going to happen again.
As for the Clippers before the delay, there was a lot to like. Baron Davis had his first triple double as a Clipper, with a season high 27 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. He also had five steals, as if he hadn't done enough. Filling in for Kaman in the starting lineup, DeAndre Jordan matched his career high with 23 points on 9 for 11 shooting, and 5 for 9 from the line.
And here's another weird thing - short handed as they were, and playing against what has turned into a very good team, the Clippers outplayed them until the delay despite the fact that no one other than Baron and DeAndre played great. Eric Gordon finished with 18, but he was much less efficient than usual, requiring 17 shots to do so. He was also just 1 for 7 from deep, one of the worst three point shooting performances of his career (he went 0 for 7 against Phoenix in a game last January). Did I mention what one more make would have done to the final score? Butler scored a measly five points and was 1 for 5 from deep. So that means that the two primary deep threats for the team were a combined 1 for 12 from behind the arc in a game without their primary inside threat. If you think about it, it's amazing that they didn't get blown out.
Al Thornton was 5 for 8 off the bench for 10 points, and Craig Smith put up eight points in 12 minutes - but for some reason MDsr left Smith on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, a decision that seems dubious with the Clippers struggling to score and devoid of an inside option. (In fact, you wonder if Smith tightened up or was in some other way a fourth quarter scratch as opposed to a Coach's Decision.)
So, you take the good things you can away from this game. Those are, DeAndre Jordan had a terrific game, which is hopefully a key step in his continued development. Baron Davis had his most dominant game as a Clipper, almost carrying a team missing it's top three bigs to victory.
Then you hope that the standings at the end of the season don't come down to a a game or two difference with the Grizzlies. And you hope that Baron has something left in the tank for tomorrow night in New Orleans.