It doesn't exactly erase the sting of three consecutive bad losses, but the Clippers got about as much good news tonight as they might reasonably hope for at one time. First of all, they won a game - and not just any game, a road game, only their fifth victory away from home this season. Secondly, they got Chris Kaman back, which, after being out for 34 games and 45 of the last 47, was something we thought we might never see again. Kaman looked good, particularly when you consider that this was his first game action in 10 weeks, and with six days off for the All Star break before the next game, there's reason to believe that the Clippers will soon be back at full strength, with Eric Gordon and Craig Smith back in the lineup as well. A post All Star break run with a healthy team would go a long way towards building buzz and confidence for next season.
As for the game, there's nothing quite like a meeting against the Timberwolves to get a struggling team back on track. Although Baron Davis had his toughest shooting night of the road trip making just 2 of 10 shots (he missed his first 7), the Clippers got good performances from several others to get the win.
Blake Griffin led the way with 29 points. His jump shot was particularly good tonight, as he made five of them, which must surely be one of his best night's from the perimeter this season. I'm not convinced that it's something the Clippers want to rely on night in and night out, but it's certainly nice when it's clicking. Notably, he shot the jumper with confidence tonight, catching and shooting rather than hesitating and shooting as a second of third or last option. Whether the confidence led to the makes or the makes led to the confidence, it was certainly a positive feedback loop once it got going.
The ClipperWolves, Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye, each played well to help carry the scoring load. Foye had 21 points and Gomes had 18, and between them they made 5 of the Clippers 6 three pointers (though it took them 16 attempts to do so). Gomes' corner three in the final minute slammed the door on any comeback hopes the Wolves may have harbored. I'd love to see these guys hit even more of the shots they're getting - with all the defensive attention Griffin is commanding, they get open looks all game long. But I'll take 13 for 28 with 5 threes, especially given some of the other nights we've seen from them lately.
DeAndre Jordan had one of his more active games in a while, with four blocked shots. He also had eight rebounds. Even Baron, although he did not shoot well, helped in other areas with six assists and only two turnovers. In other words, all five Clipper starters contributed.
Eric Bledsoe came off the bench with a ton of energy which he (mostly) put to good use. He had 10 points, 8 rebounds (tied with Jordan and Griffin for team high honors, if you can believe that), 5 assists and 4 steals - wow! But he also had 4 turnovers. He's a singular talent, that much is true. On one play in the third quarter he took an outlet pass near mid-court, and went one on four against the retreating Minnesota defense - and he still managed to blow by everyone, get to the rim, finish with his off hand and get fouled for the three point opportunity. I'm not at all convinced it was a smart play to go one on four there - but how many players in the league even have the talent to do that?
As for Kaman, he was limited to 10 minutes tonight, but he looked good during that time. He scored 4 points (hitting his first two jump shots), and also had 6 rebounds and 3 blocks in those limited minutes. I'm as happy as anyone that DeAndre Jordan has stepped up and played well in Kaman's absence, but there's little question as to who is the better player. It reminds me a bit of the Bledsoe/Baron situation way back in November. When Bledsoe was playing well and everyone was pissed off at Baron, there was talk of Baron being 'benched' and how the Clippers would be better off with Bledsoe as the full time starter. That talk was unfounded then, and it's obvious now just how misguided it was. It's the same situation with Jordan and Kaman. There simply aren't a lot of players around with Kaman's combination of size and skills. Moreover, people don't seem to realize that Kaman is as good a rebounder as Jordan, and almost as good a shot blocker (his shot blocking in 05-06 was actually better than anything Jordan's done on his career). Plus, Kaman's post defense is superior and there's obviously no comparison on offense. Kaman can be maddening, I know. After all, I'm the guy who dubbed him Mr. Flippy. But his presence will clearly help the team - a lot - assuming he plays at a level approaching what he did last season. Actually, if he can become the rebounding and shot blocking demon he was in 05-06, so much the better, but I'll certainly take the 2010 version.
So the Clippers have reached a pause in their Odyssey. They're 2-6 in the first 8 games, which is better than their road winning percentage on the season, but certainly not good, especially considering the weak competition they've faced in the last four. But maybe some brighter days are ahead if the team can get healthy after the All Star break.