Clippers 98 - Sacramento 91 - Eric Gordon, Closer

Is it possible that Eric Gordon read Marc Stein's Weekend Dime on ESPN and wanted his due? The fourth quarter, or really the entire second half, of this game was the best example yet of his growth as a player, and if Stein doesn't think that Gordon is one of the Team USA players to have taken a big step forward, let's hope he was watching.

In order for EJ to really shine, the Clippers first had to choke up what had seemed like an insurmountable lead in the fourth quarter. Watching during the third, I was actually quite disappointed to think that the Clippers were so completely in control that the fourth was going to be extended garbage time, and Gordon and Griffin wouldn't get a chance to pad their numbers. So it was really quite considerate of the Clippers to allow the Kings to go on a 25 to 6 run over the first eight minutes of the final period, turning a 16 point Clippers lead at the end of three into a three point deficit.That total melt down really kept the game interesting, so that's terrific.

 

In fact, the Kings had a three point lead and the ball with just over three minutes to play. From that point forward, Gordon had:

  • A steal for a dunk that cut the lead to one - the steal was huge, because the Clippers offense had been completely dysfunctional the entire quarter, so an easy basket was manna from heaven.
  • A layup to tie the game after Tyreke Evans and Ryan Gomes had traded three for two.
  • A three pointer to give the Clippers a three point lead.
  • A rebound.
  • Two free throws to give the Clippers a five point lead.
  • A forced turnover when he knocked the ball off of Pooh Jeter's knee.

At that point the Clippers had the ball and a five point lead with 10 seconds left and the game was over. Eric Bledsoe made two free throws to ice the game. Over the final three minutes, Gordon had scored nine points and made two key defensive plays. For the fourth quarter (which had started as a disaster) he scored 13 of the Clippers 19 points. He scored 29 points on 10 for 17 shooting in the game - 23 in the second half.

Why the Clippers let the game slip away in the fourth is a different question. As I was formulating my recap in my head in the third, I was thinking about how the team was so much deeper than we first thought, and how that depth was making them less susceptible to droughts. Ryan Gomes had a big game off the bench for the Clippers, and Baron Davis was terrific through three quarters of play, picking up 6 assists in just 14 minutes to that point. But just to ruin my storyline, the Clippers came out in the fourth quarter and fell to pieces.  They came up empty on their first five possessions of the quarter while giving up 12 points on six Sacramento possessions - leads can evaporate quickly when you efficiency is 0 and the opponents is 200, and indeed the 16 point lead was down to 4 within three minutes.

But whereas a different Clippers team would have never been able to respond after losing a 16 point fourth quarter lead, the team did respond tonight - or at least Gordon did.

Blake Griffin had his least dominant game in a while, yet still managed to come up with his ninth consecutive double double, with 13 points and 11 rebounds. He also dished out 7 assists, the third time in those same nine games that he's tied his career high. DeAndre Jordan had a nice active game, with seven rebounds, and two big blocks courtesy of Beno Udrih. Eric Bledsoe had his best game in a while, in a game that I thought he should not have started. He made a couple of three pointers after missing 15 straight over the last couple of weeks.

The bad news is that Baron experienced tightness in his hamstring in the fourth quarter. Is it possible that the Clippers re-lost Baron Davis tonight after re-losing Chris Kaman last night? There goes the depth I was thinking about.

For the Kings, I realize that I don't watch every game, but I don't understand how they can possibly start Donte Greene over Omri Casspi. He certainly overperforms his season numbers against the Clippers, but isn't it obvious that this guy is the better choice? Likewise with the recently demoted Carl Landry versus Jason Thompson - is Westphal looking for a spark off the bench? That's all well and good, but with Greene and Thompson in the starting lineup, you're basically guaranteeing that in every game you'll need a spark off the bench, since your starters are bound to be overmatched.

Tyreke Evans followed up his 2 for 13 night on Thanksgiving with a 5 for 19 performance tonight. He's never been a great perimeter shooting, and the Clippers dared him to shoot tonight. He accepted the dare - and missed time and again. He made one perimeter shot in the game and though it was a big one, giving the Kings their largest lead since the first quarter, it wasn't enough.

The Clippers have now won four of their last five home games, and while two of them have been against the Kings, the other two were against the Hornets and Spurs, so that ain't bad. And more importantly, for the first time since Houston got their first win on November 7th, they no longer have the fewest wins in the NBA. The next opponent - the Lakers on Wednesday - falls squarely into that 'top team' category, so hopefully the Clippers can pull off another upset with another good home court performance.

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