Clippers 105 - Portland 95 - The Bench Comes Through

It doesn't seem right, that I'm disappointed with this performance.  I mean, a 15 win team just beat a 22 win team by double digits, 105-95.  What more do I want?  Still, the Clippers level of intensity left much to be desired tonight, a recurring characteristic that has cost them dearly more than once this season.  In this game, their talent level as compared to the depleted Blazers carried them to the victory.  But it was close for much longer than it should have been.

It shouldn't have been close, because the Blazers were missing four starters, and the only one left had a terrible game.  Brandon Roy scored just 6 points on 3 for 12 shooting, his worst scoring night in almost two months.  It's difficult to imagine losing to the group the Blazers put on the floor tonight with Roy neutralized, and yet it was tied at halftime (with Roy having scored only 2 to that point) and it was still a one possession game early in the fourth quarter.

With the Clippers up three, Roy long overdue, and Baron Davis, Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman all on the bench in the fourth, I was expecting the worst.  Roy is a legendary closer, and the Clippers bench has given up many a lead this season.  Instead, something unexpected happened.  Rasual Butler (technically a starter in this game), Craig Smith, Sebastian Telfair and Ricky Davis started a 12-0 run, which they stretched to 22-7 to put the game away.  (The Blazers scored the final eight points of the game to make the final score more respectable.)  Overall, the Clippers bench put up 29 points, and that was essentially without Al Thornton who was clearly still feeling the effects of a stomach virus and did not play in the second half.  Ricky, Rhino, Bassy and DeAndre Jordan shot a combined 11 for 14 in the game.

Then again, offense wasn't really the problem, especially in the second half.  In the third quarter, the Clippers scored 33 - the vast majority coming from Chris Kaman (12 in the period) and Eric Gordon (16 in the period), for whom the Blazers had no answer.  But it didn't do a whole lot of good to score 33, because they gave up 29 on the other end.  At one point the Clippers made 11 consecutive field goals, including a couple of Eric Gordon threes - but they couldn't pull away, because they allowed the Blazers to score almost every time as well.

The biggest single problem for the team was carelessness with the ball.  They committed 13 first half turnovers (and the Blazers stayed even), but cut that back to 7 in the second half (and the Clippers took control of the game).  Twenty turnovers is way too many, and it's tough to win when you commit that many.  What was particularly frustrating was that many, if not most, were completely unforced.  Case in point - Chris Kaman had three turnovers in the game, right around his season average.  A certain number of turnovers in the double team, or perhaps on offensive fouls, are to be expected from Chris, and you accept them and live with them.  In this game, two of his three turnovers were on outlet passes - one where he for some reason refused to give the ball to Eric Gordon who was standing right next to him and instead threw a 40 foot baseball pass to Baron that Andre Miller intercepted leading to a Martell Webster dunk, and another where he led EJ with the pass - except Eric was running.  In fact, there must have been at least a half dozen of those types of turnovers - the 'he zigged when I thought he'd zag' type where the pass just went out of bounds or straight to a Portland player.  It's one thing to turn the ball over in the face of tremendous defensive pressure.  That's not what happened here.  The Clippers were flat out sloppy - and they have to tighten things up if they expect to beat teams at full strength.  And it starts with Baron and Gordon, who had eight and four turnovers respectively tonight.

Enough of the negativity.  The good news is that the Clippers talents were also on full display tonight.  Although he inexplicably had only five field goal attempts in the first half, Kaman was a beast in the third quarter, when he made 6 of 8 field goals.  He also had 4 assists, all in the second half - after the intermission, every time they got him the ball in the low post, something good happened.  Gordon was also a monster in the third, and hopefully he can carry that performance over to the next game.  He made his open looks, and more importantly took the ball hard to the basket when he had the chance.  If you look at his shot chart, everything can from behind the arc or right at the rim.  That's exactly what you want - if you're going to shoot a jump shot, go for the big payoff.  Otherwise, get to the hole (and consequently the line).  That's high percentage basketball, and it's how a guy scores 19 points on 10 shots.  Baron honestly seemed like he could turn it on and off in this game.  Other than the turnovers (he actually flirted with a dubious triple double, with 15 points, 9 assists and 8 turnovers) he looked terrific.  When he wanted to, he took it right at Andre Miller or Jerryd Bayless or whoever was on him.  But with Kaman and Gordon and Smith really clicking, he was content to set the table for others most of the game. Last season, some people made a big deal about how Baron had gone over a year without ever shooting above 50% in an individual game.  Well, tonight was the 10th time he's done it in 33 games this season.  He has had more than a few nightmare games (1 for 10, 1 for 10, 2 for 14 and 2 for 15 come to mind), but on the whole has shot much better.

One of those 1 for 10 performances came in the first game of the season against the Lakers.  The Clippers get another rematch on Wednesday.  They'll have to play with more intensity and more precision to have a chance against the champs.  But they've certainly got the talent to compete.

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