Tonight's game was close from start to finish. Neither team built a double digit lead at any point. On the strength of some great three point shooting in the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves built their biggest lead of the game with a little less than seven minutes left, 101-93. The lead was still seven, 108-101, with under four minutes to go. From that point, the Clippers went on a 10-1 run to regain a two point lead.
During those final four minutes, the Clippers had eight offensive possessions. They scored on five of them during the 10-1 run. On the other three, they turned the ball over. To be more specific, rookies turned the ball over. They did not miss a shot until a desperation 3 by Rasual Butler at the final buzzer. Think about that. With the game on the line, the scored on every trip to regain the lead - but lost the game because they turned the ball over without getting shots.
Two of the turnovers were by Eric Bledsoe, and they were both completely unforced. After a steal, with a 4 on 2 fast break developing, he got completely disoriented and essentially passed the ball to Michael Beasley. I honestly couldn't tell you what he was trying to do there. Then, with under a minute left and the game tied, he took his eye off a pass and simply missed it, and the ball sailed out of bounds. It turned out to be the Clippers last possession with a full shot clock.
At least the third turnover, a charge called against Al-Farouq Aminu, was on an aggressive play. Bledsoe's turnovers were as bad as it gets. Rookie mistakes in spades.
The final 90 seconds, as the Clippers were losing the lead that they had fought so valiantly to recapture, were particularly brutal. On the Wolves first possession, the Clippers played terrific defense, keeping the ball away from Michael Beasley and Kevin Love, the two Timberwolves who were having big nights. With the shot clock winding down, Corey Brewer took a tough leaning bank shot - and made it. It was a great defensive stand by the Clippers, and they forced the Wolves into a tough shot by a non-scorer - it just happened to go in. Ten seconds later, Aminu was called for a charge. Again the Clippers played solid defense, again keeping the ball away from Beasley and Love; this time, they forced Sebastian Telfair to shoot and rebounded his miss. Ten seconds later Bledsoe fumbled the ball out of bounds.
Now the Timberwolves had the ball in a tie game with 39 seconds to go. For the third time in a row, the Clippers played good defense, this time forcing Brewer to take the shot, which he airballed. Unfortunately, Love got the offensive rebound, and then when he missed his put back (the shot clock was still running since Brewer's shot hadn't drawn iron), Beasley got the offensive board again. After a timeout, Minnesota cleared out for Beasley, and he hit the game winner.
Not counting Butler's desperation three, during those crucial 90 seconds, the Wolves were 2 for 5 shooting - and the Clippers didn't get a shot. Two turnovers and two offensive rebounds led to a five to zero shot advantage in the crucial stage of the game. Or think about it in a football term, time of possession. In the final 93 seconds of the game, Minnesota had the ball 72 seconds, and the Clippers had it 21 seconds. It's hard to win games if you can't even get a shot off in the final minute and a half. The Wolves weren't stopping the Clippers, as evidenced by the five straight makes leading up to that point. No, the Clippers were stopping themselves.
The sad ending, this was a very entertaining game. Both teams shot well, and there were some remarkable performances from the high school class of 2007. Beasley and Love finished with 33 and 24 respectively, 57 combined points. Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin of the Clippers finished with 30 and 26, 56 combined. Griffin had 17 rebounds; Love had 14. Gordon had 7 assists. They were all outstanding.
But Beasley was the best of the bunch. I mentioned in the preview that Kevin Pelton believes that he'll have to cool off (insider required) at some point - that no one can continue to shoot this well taking the number of long two pointers he does. But looking at the shot chart from this game, he took almost exclusively perimeter shots tonight - and he scored 33 points while shooting 61% from the field. So he hasn't cooled off yet. He has now scored over 35 in his last five games, and is averaging almost 33 during that time.
Gordon continues to impress as a closer, again leading the Clippers down the stretch in this one. He finished with 30 for the second consecutive game, and even managed to make 2 out of 6 three pointers - not a good percentage by his career standards, but a veritable breakthrough given his struggles with the long ball this season. Unfortunately, he also exhibited the unreliable handle that we've seen in him in years past but which had been better this season. On two separate occasions he simply lost his own dribble under only light pressure, resulting in two of his five turnovers. Along with Bledsoe's four the Clippers' starting guards combined for nine turnovers, a major factor in the final outcome.
Aminu, getting his third straight start, had a nice game. He scored 17 points on 7 for 11 shooting. His makes consisted almost entirely of three pointers and fast break finishes, but that's OK for now. The offense will come. Truthfully, the move he made at the end when he was called for charging was a nice move - Love just did a good job of stepping in to take the charge and Aminu couldn't adjust in time. He'll learn. I'll say this - I'm prepared at this point to say that his three point shooting is not a fluke. He's now made 13 out of 24 attempts, and when his feet are set, he's money. For what it's worth, Gordon is now 10 for 53 on the season. Who would have thought that Chief would have more threes after a dozen games than EJ?
Griffin had a good bounce back game after playing poorly on Monday. He played a great first half, finishing the half with 20 points and 9 rebounds. Sadly, the Clippers sort of forgot about him in the second half. I'm not sure why they weren't getting him the ball after intermission, but he only scored two points in the third quarter, and then had two dunks late in the game.
As long as the Clippers are starting a team consisting of three rookies where the oldest starter is 22, they're going to have to live with some mistakes. Unfortunately, those mistakes led more or less directly to a loss tonight. Bledsoe, Aminu and Griffin are getting on the job training. I think it's all going to pay off in the future - but here in the present, the Clippers have lost seven in a row, and have the worst record in the NBA at 1-11.