The Clippers are quickly becoming an NBA sideshow. An exciting and fun to watch team, that has little or no chance to actually win any games. They've already been on National TV several times this season, with an exclusive TNT game coming up on Thanksgiving night against the almost equally irrelevant Kings. I had been thinking that the powers that schedule those games must be regretting having the worst team in basketball on so frequently. But on the second thought, I bet they're fine with it. Because though the Clippers are bound to lose and are irrelevant in terms of the important things like playoffs and championships, they are a highlight reel bonanza, and are producing entertaining if not productive basketball.
This of course assumes that you're not a big fan of defense. And let's face it, who is? The Clippers have now given up at least 100 points in nine consecutive games, not surprisingly all of them losses. It's little surprise that the 124 they gave up in losing to New York tonight is the most they've allowed this season. In a game involving the Clippers, it's like the NBA of the 70s again - scores regularly reach above 110 points.
But if you don't mind all the losing and all the easy baskets for the other team, there's plenty to get excited about. Prize rookie Blake Griffin had the break out game of his nascent career tonight, scoring 44 points, grabbing 15 boards and handing out 7 assists. I believe Citizen Zhiv was wondering earlier this season who would score 30 first in their NBA career - Griffin, or Chris Kaman, he of the 20wo30 streak. Well, Griffin skipped right over 30 and went into the 40's setting a Clipper rookie record in the process. (Incidentally, I don't know if it's a more of a commentary on the dependence on rookies the last few seasons, or success in the draft, but the Clippers rookie scoring record has now been set in three of the last four seasons - Al Thornton tied the record of 39 held by Tom Chambers and Terry Cummings in 2008, Eric Gordon broke it with 41 in 2009, and Griffin moved it up to 44 tonight.)
Of Griffin's 14 field goals, at least five were dunks. A couple of those five could have led SportsCenter on a given night. Two others were in another category. His put back of an Eric Gordon miss was spectacular for how high he got. His spin and finish on a one on one fast break was remarkable for the ball handling skill he exhibited, and the power and grace of the dunk itself.
And finally, if you take that other category, and then you make an entirely different category, that's where you put this baseline posterization of Timofey Mozgov.
There are a few spectacular dunks where guys jump over people, notably Vince Carter over Frederic Weis and Tom Chambers over Mark Jackson. But those are when guys are flying towards the basket on a fast break. In this dunk, it was like Griffin jumped over Mozgov, while jumping straight up. He took off and landed on the same side of Mozgov, so he didn't literally jump over him - but he was so high in the air, he was very much over Mosgov during the dunk. He may have gotten a little lucky that the ball went in - like Dwight Howard's super man dunk on All Star weekend a couple years back, he threw the ball down at the hoop, rather than stuffing it through - but that made it all the more impressive. In real time, it seemed impossible - how could he possibly have dunked the ball from where he was, with a giant Russian blocking his path to the basket. In slow motion, watching Griffin use the top of Mozgov's head as leverage with his off hand is hilarious.
It must be noted that Griffin was certainly more than just highlight reel dunks tonight. He made four jump shots, including two fallaways. He got to the line 23 times, after the Knicks decided that they'd been dunked on enough. And after starting the game missing 5 of his first 7 free throws, he made 14 of his final 16, demonstrating that he can turn into a very good free throw shooter.
And still the Clippers lost. They allowed Amare Stoudemire to match Griffin almost basket for basket (Amare finished with a season high 39). They managed to give Danilo Gallinari either open looks (4 for 6 from three) or trips to the line when they crowded him (13 for 13). Gallinari scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, and every time the Clippers got within five, he seemed to hit a three. Do I even need to tell you that Gallinari tied a career high with 31 points?The Knicks as a team went to the line an astounding 51 times, making 43 of them. (Incidentally, Gallinari is going to be a really, really good player. His instincts on offense are impeccable, and he's actually a good defender as well. At 6'10", he spent most of the night defending Eric Gordon. The Knicks have a gem there.)
I'm not usually very interested in points off turnovers. Turnovers give extra possessions to the other team, and that hurts, so turnovers themselves are very important. But generally I feel that the points earned on those extra possessions will even out, so tracking the specific points from turnovers isn't really significant. Having said that, giving up 35 points on 20 turnovers as the Clippers did is brutal. In a league where one possession is usually worth around one point, the Knicks got 1.75 points off every turnover the Clippers made. And they seemed to all be at crucial times, as they have been in so many games this season.
It may have been a great game for Griffin, but it was a sub par game for the Clippers other rookies. Al-Farouq Aminu was replaced in the starting lineup by Ryan Gomes. When Aminu entered the game in the third quarter, he picked up three fouls in six minutes, and exited, never to return. (It seems strange that Vinny never brought him back, especially considering that Rasual Butler hurt his finger in the second half and had to leave - it makes you wonder if VDN just saw something in AFA tonight that he didn't like.) Eric Bledsoe had six points and five turnovers in one of his more lackluster performances.
But Griffin was the show tonight. His scoring and dunks overshadowed a pretty good game from Eric Gordon (25 points) not to mention a pretty good dunk by Gordon (who's had more than his share of highlight reel throw downs this season).
So the Clippers are becoming quite an exciting team. Not a good team, but an exciting team. Without question they lead the league in highlight plays to wins ratio. And until they can figure out how to stop their opponents from scoring at will, that ratio is going to stay very high, because the number of wins is going to stay very low.