With two days off between games, we've got lots of time to keep thinking about the one that got away.
In my in game recap of the first half, I praised the bench contributions of Ryan Gomes, Rasual Butler and Craig Smith, who were 8 for 16 at the time and were instrumental in the Clippers snatching the lead. Well, they finished the game collectively 8 for 23, collectively missing all seven of the second half attempts. We can't much blame Smith, given that he didn't get off the bench after halftime, but Gomes and Butler were brutal as the 12 point lead the starters had built began to slip away. They missed several wide open looks in the fourth. Baron Davis had the only second half field goal among the reserves, but he wasn't much good either. The Lakers employed a different defensive technique when Blake Griffin was surrounded by the reserves, doubling him immediately on the catch. Unfortunately, Davis, Gomes and Butler stood around on the perimeter when this happened, and then seemed hesitant to shoot on the pass out. If you're just going to stand there, and then pass up shots when you get the ball, you're not really helping a lot. Not that they made shots when they took them, but it would have been slightly less painful to watch had they at least shot with confidence.
In a game filled with interesting subplots, one of the most fascinating was the Clippers missing three consecutive dunks early in the second half. As Ralph quipped at the time, it was an all time NBA record for missed dunks on consecutive possessions. Al-Farouq Aminu, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan all failed to get the ball cleanly through the hoop, and as they followed through on the rim, the recoil popped the ball out. Citizens of Clips Nation frequently feel persecuted and uniquely ill-fated among NBA fans, but surely no other team has ever suffered such an unlikely sequence, brief though it was. And it's not as if the Clippers are bad dunkers - it's one thing they do really, really well.
The nature of NBA games is to ebb and flow. One team builds a lead, the other team goes on a run to cut into it. Indeed, that played out in the second half. But it's difficult to fault the Clippers for losing focus during the Lakers' runs. When the Lakers regained the lead early in the third, the Clippers were getting great shots (dunks, actually) and improbably missing them. After they had built the lead to 12, the Lakers cut it in half before the quarter ended - on 11 straight points via long Shannon Brown jump shots. The corner three he hit in transition was wide open, but the others weren't exactly high percentage shots resulting from egregious defensive lapses. If you force a team to settle exclusively for long jump shots, that's usually a pretty good formula for success. Of course, there's nothing you can do about a 70 foot swish after a made basket with one second on the clock.
If you were to crunch the possession stats from this game, you'd conclude that the Clippers had won. They dominated the boards overall, and had seven more offensive rebounds. That advantage was only slightly mitigated by three extra Clipper turnovers. Both teams took the same number of free throws, and the Clippers actually made one more free throw and two more three pointers. Given all of that, you would not expect the Lakers' slight field goal percentage advantage to make up the difference, because the Clippers should have gotten more shots. But they didn't. Both teams took 80 shots in the game. This is one of those things that happens, but is hard to explain. Most of the discrepancy comes from final shots. Although the Clippers closed the first and second quarters strong, the Lakers actually got the final shot in every quarter of the game - and of course those second half buzzer beaters were huge. The Lakers also got more extra free throws, the kind that don't represent possessions, in the form of and-ones and technical fouls.
Speaking of technical fouls, the delay of game technical looms large in retrospect, as Ralph mused it might at the time. There's a bitter irony to calling this a "Delay of Game" violation. Blake's practice free throw didn't delay the game at all, but Phil Jackson's lobbying for the call actually did. The refs had absolutely no intention of calling anything until Phil said something - I guess that's why he has a ring for every finger and one toe. I'm having difficulty assessing how incensed to be about the call. What Blake did was clearly a violation - but it does seem like players get away sans warning with similar, if not identical actions. I know I've never seen that called a technical before, but I can't come up with specific instances where a similar practice shot went unpunished. We'll no doubt be much more attuned to it for months to come, if not years.
On the subject of irony, it should be noted that Ron Artest, one of the heroes of the game for the Lakers, would probably have been on the bench for the final possessions had Lamar Odom not fouled out. When time out was called with 2:45 remaining, Phil Jackson brought back Pau Gasol and took Artest out. Presumably, PJ intended to play the final moments with the five of Fisher, Bryant, Barnes, Odom and Gasol. But Odom picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in quick succession, forcing Jackson to come back with Ron Ron. Artest's defense forced turnovers on successive possessions in the final minute, fueling the Lakers final desperate push. Now that's coaching.
The Clippers had two huge fourth quarter blocked shots of Pau Gasol that almost preserved the victory. But DeAndre Jordan came up millimeters short of getting the crucial block on Fisher on the final play.
- After the exhilaration of building a 12 point second half lead, losing it, and then regaining the lead in a crucial late game possession, followed by the ultimate heartbreak of losing at the buzzer, it's easy to forget that the Clippers weren't particularly sharp in the first half Wednesday night. They fell behind 20-12 in a lackluster first quarter, and were very lucky to get out of the quarter down by only two. They weren't much better in the second, but still managed to grab their first lead of the game just before halftime. The team played significantly better in the second half; well enough to win in fact, although they did not.