As evidenced by the title of the post, I think this was an important win for the Clippers, if only because it shows them that they can win a game without Eric Gordon. There were things not to like about the game from the Clippers perspective - they didn't rebound well, and did a particularly bad job protecting their defensive glass, the reserves were shakey at best and gave up a 12-0 run to open the fourth - but those are nitpicks. The Clippers played some very nice basketball through three quarters to build a 23 point lead, so even when they had some issues in the fourth, the lead never got into single digits and the game was never in doubt.
The Clippers did an outstanding job of taking what the defense was giving them. In the first quarter, the Bobcats tried to single cover Blake Griffin with Boris Diaw and Griffin destroyed them. Blake scored 15 of the team's 24 first quarter points, but took 14 shots to get there. The Clippers led by one - but the danger was that no one else was doing anything. No other Clipper had more than one score in the game at one period.
Charlotte starting paying a lot more attention to Griffin the second quarter and for the rest of the game, which opened things up for everybody else. The Clippers were 11 for 29 from the three point arc in the game, but they were 0 for 4 in the first quarter. Eleven is one shy of the season high for three pointers, and they got all of them in the final three quarters. With Charlotte's defense completely preoccupied with Griffin, the rest of the Clippers were getting wide open looks, and fortunately they were making them.
During the first quarter, it seemed as if maybe Blake was indeed going to have another one of his monster bounce back games, as he did in following up 12 point game with a 44 point game or an 18 point game with a 47. He scored only 14 in Houston on Wednesday, and with 15 in the first quarter, it seemed like he might be on his way to another career high. As the defense adjusted, he only scored 10 more points the rest of the way. But he added some major highlight reel material along the way.
Griffin has a couple of different highlight reels at least. There's the one containing the plays that might be the best play of the season for 100s of other players, but are pretty common for him. That reel gets added to every game, and is approaching the general length of the Lonesome Dove miniseries. Then there is the special reel, the Blake Superior Private Label; the good stuff. It's a lot harder to get onto that reel, but he added two clips to it tonight.
The first was a first quarter move that is really hard to describe. He was defended in the post by Dominic McGuire, spun off of him, crossed under the goal, then did a 360 and made the basket while being fouled (pretty hard, I might add) by Nazr Mohammed. Any one of three parts of that move were spectacular - the initial spin off his defender, the 360 at the end, the strong finish through the hard foul - to combine all three on one play is just ridiculous. I don't even know how he kept track of where he was on the floor or avoided getting dizzy, much less how he actually scored a basket.
The second is definitely a highlight play, but Blake's part in it was pretty limited. Baron Davis has thrown some pretty long lob passes to Griffin this season. On several occasions, he's thrown the ball from near half court, maybe a couple steps over the line, maybe a step or two beyond it. Well, in the second quarter, Randy Foye threw a lob from near Charlotte's three point line. Ralph called it a 50 foot lob, but with all due respect, it was much further than that. The court is 94 feet long, so the half court line is 47 feet. The three point line is about 24 feet, but Foye was also throwing from an angle, so I would say that he threw the ball pretty nearly 75 feet. It was a spectacular pass, considering the distance it covered, the accuracy and the timing involved. Blake's role in the whole thing - catching and dunking - was pretty straightforward, but it still goes on the exclusive reel.
He almost had a third one in the fourth quarter. On a breakaway, Baron had Blake running free and gave him a perfect lob. In front of the pack, with no defenders to deal with, Griffin seemed to want to put a little extra on this one, maybe even a lot extra. He grabbed the ball with both hands and jack-knifed in the air, unleashing a ferocious dunk. Unfortunately, he missed it. Amazingly, the crowd still gave him a standing ovation on it. The Clippers had just come away from a 3-on-1 fast break with no points, and the fans were cheering wildly.
But Griffin was far from alone in this game. Baron Davis had a 12 point, 11 assist double double, and scored 8 consecutive points and a couple of assists to re-establish LA's control over the game when Charlotte made their run at the start of the fourth quarter.
Randy Foye in particular had a terrific game. I mentioned in the preview that Foye is probably better in a featured role, as he has been in the absence of Eric Gordon. If you look at his splits this season, and compare his three games as a starter to his performance before that coming off the bench, the disparity is astounding. He's shooting 31% off the bench; 44% as a starter. And if that 44% doesn't impress you, consider that he's also 8 for 20 shooting the three ball in that time, so his effective field goal percentage is almost 54%. Now add in his free throws (he's the best free throw shooter on the team, and is 12 for 12 as a starter), and his true shooting percentage as a starter is better than 60%.
The question is whether this uptick in productivity is because he's finally healthy and confident for the first time this season, or because he's in the starting lineup, or just a fluke. Hopefully he's finding his groove finally, and will be able to maintain some of this even when Eric Gordon returns. Foye is who he is, a scorer. If you're asking him to swing the ball to the weakside and keep his turnovers down and not much else, you're not really getting a lot out of him. But if you want him to be an aggressive scorer and to make things happen, he can help. Goodness knows that the second unit needs some pop; if Foye can play like this when Gordon returns, it could be a big boost for the team.
Let's talk about that popless second unit for a moment. In tonight's game, with Foye starting and both Foye and Ryan Gomes playing well, four of the five starters had a plus/minus of at least +20 (DeAndre Jordan is the only one who did not, mainly because his minutes were limited by foul trouble). Conversely the reserves were almost all in negative territory (the only one who was positive, who played lots of his minutes with the starters in place of Jordan). Obviously the bench will be much better when (if?) the Clippers return to full health. But Bledsoe and Aminu seem like they are becoming less and less effective.The season is really long for a rookie - hopefully those two can find their second wind.
With this win, the Clippers tie their record for consecutive home wins with eight; the last time they won eight straight at home Larry Brown was the coach. They can break the record on Monday against the Bucks. They will need to continue to build momentum if they hope to survive the Odyssey that is starting next Friday. They now know they can win without Eric Gordon, but they need to build up some momentum to take onto their trip.