You can thank ESPN and Kevin Arnovitz for the win tonight. As we mentioned in the comments of the preview, this game was on the worldwide leader tonight because the Bucks are the hottest team in basketball. And for that same reason, ESPN.com sent their crack NBA editor Arnovitz to cover the game - from the Bucks' perspective. The lede of the story was of course going to be "Bucks Use Stingy D to Win 13th Game in Last 14." Unfortunately, the Clippers shot 53% against the hottest team in basketball and stomped all over the story. So thank you Daily Dime.
It was an entertaining game to be sure. I have to give the Clippers and Kim Hughes credit - although they looked completely cooked during the road trip, they have given excellent effort in two straight games, which is not what we were expecting moving into the final four weeks of the season.
After a deadlocked first quarter, the game went in surges. The Clippers were +9 in the second, the Bucks +11 in the third, the Clippers +10 in the fourth. In both the second and fourth, the Clipper advantage was keyed by the second unit. Interestingly, none of them finished with spectacular numbers - 26 bench points, 8 for 17 shooting. But make no mistake, those guys keyed the win.
The Clippers worked on a zone defense in practice yesterday and broke it out for the fourth quarter. Honestly, I was unimpressed at first. The Bucks missed a couple of wide open corner threes which is a shot that every coach in the NBA wants. But something else was definitely going on with that zone. The Clippers were just incredibly active - much more active than we're used to. When the Bucks ran a nice ball reversal to free Bogut up underneath, it looked like an easy dunk - but Travis Outlaw came out of nowhere to smother it. The Clippers finished with five steals and four blocked shots in the fourth quarter alone, which is just amazing (they had eight and eight for the game). And I have no idea how many more deflections they had. Zone or man-to-man - if you're active on defense and you get your hands on the ball, good things happen. Steve Blake played all 12 minutes of the fourth - and was terrific. He had three assists, two steals - and three rebounds! Outlaw looked much more under control than he has lately.
As you may have read in my in game notes on the open thread, I was dubious when Hughes brought Kaman and Baron back into the game with 7:04 left. The unit on the floor had opened on a 12-2 run - I didn't see why he would mess with that. But Kaman scored six of the Clippers final 15 points, including a massive bucket inside of three minutes, making Hughes look very good indeed.
Kaman bounced back nicely from his seven game slump to score 20 points, adding to his own 20wo30 NBA record. He shot 8 for 13 in the game after going 3 for 15 on Monday night. Eric Gordon also bounced back, at least from deep - he made 2 of 4 threes after missing all 7 threes on Monday.
Baron had a terrific start, but did not end up with his best game of late. He scored 10 first quarter points - and finished with 14. He also had 5 turnovers to offset his 7 assists. But he was clearly into the game and hustling - he just wasn't his sharpest. He also took a couple of pretty nasty whacks in the game. Through it all, he finished shooting better than 50% (6 for 11) for the fourth straight game - the first time he's done that as a Clipper. I spoke to Neil Olshey for awhile in the fourth quarter, and he went out of his way to praise Baron for the way he's been playing lately. It certainly does go against the type casting - isn't he the guy who doesn't care this much?
The Clippers continue to be a decent home team, improving to 19-15. The first step in becoming a good team is becoming a decent home team. With seven home games left on the schedule starting Sunday against the Kings, we may have a few reasons to cheer yet this season.