Playing at home against the worst team in the league, the Clippers shot 48% from the field, over 50% from deep, and made 17 of 18 free throws - yet for some reason they had trouble putting the Cleveland Cavaliers away. After a first quarter in which they seemingly missed a dozen layups, the Clippers trailed by three points. To their credit, they took the lead early in the second quarter, and after a couple of lead changes, they went ahead for good. They never trailed in the final 32 minutes of game time - but they never led by double digits until a Mo Williams jumper with two minutes to go. They were able to get scores when they needed them, which was encouraging. But the fact that they couldn't get the stops necessary to pull away was almost as discouraging.
Part of that was some pretty hot shooting from the Cavs. J.J. Hickson, who shoots 44% on the season, made 8 of 12 shots, mostly mid range jump shots. Hickson scored 28 today, after scoring 27 the last time he played the Clippers, making him the latest in a string of unlikely Clipper killers. He averages 12.5 against the league - 27.5 against the Clippers.
Hickson might have led the Cavs to victory if this game had been played last week. But this was the first game back for Eric Gordon, after missing the last six after with a sprained wrist. Gordon scored 29 points in 41 minutes in just his second full game in two months. Since mid December, the Clippers are 22-22 overall; 15-5 with Gordon in the lineup - 7-17 without him. That 15-5 record is heavily populated with home games (it includes only 3 road wins in fact), but even so, the difference in the record is stark.
Gordon was simply huge in this one. Not only did he score 29 points - his baskets always seemed to come at crucial moments. When Cleveland used a 6-0 run to cut the Clippers 7 point lead to 1 in the second period, Gordon scored 5 straight to stretch the lead back to 5. When Cleveland scored 5 straight to cut an 8 point LA lead to 3 in the third, Gordon hit a three on the next trip to push the lead back to 6. EJ made back to back threes late in the third to give LA their biggest lead to that point at 80-71. And his three with 6 minutes left in the game came after Cleveland had cut the lead back down to 4, and the Cavs would never get that close again. Basically, Gordon almost single handedly ensured that Cleveland never had a chance to take the lead. Every time the Clippers really needed a bucket, Gordon delivered.
Ironically, he had a terrible time finishing around the basket, and also had trouble handling the ball and/or staying on his feet. It seemed almost as if his shoes were extra slick today - he slipped and fell at least three separate times. He made 6 of 10 three pointers, and one other long jumper - but was only 2 for 7 on drives to the basket. He's been excellent driving to the goal for the most part this season - if he had finished his drives today, there's no telling how many points he would have scored.
Gordon wasn't alone out there for the Clippers. Blake Griffin broke out of his slump with his most impressive game in a while (though he did miss double digits in rebounding for the sixth straight game, extending a season long streak that he'd like to end). He finished with 30 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists, leading the team in all three categories. He shot 12 for 21 from the field, after making under 40% of his shots in the last five. The difference between home Blake and road Blake is becoming pretty stark, but we won't worry about that for now, since the Clippers are back in LA for awhile. Griffin went hard to the basket from the beginning, and had several impressive finishes. In the absence of great lob passes for dunks, Griffin just made his own dunks today.
The Clippers also got some timely help from Craig Smith off the bench, who 12 points and 4 rebounds on 6 for 9 shooting - he was a team high +13 in 21 minutes. Smith's contributions were needed, because the rest of the team was doing very little.
Two starters, DeAndre Jordan and Ryan Gomes, combined for just two points on just two shots. Mo Williams took only six shots, but parlayed them into 11 points. Chris Kaman, who should be the guy providing some scoring off the bench, made just 2 of 9 shots and did not look sharp at all. Consider that Gordon and Griffin combined for 59 points and the rest of the team scored just 41.
With Gordon back in the lineup, Coach Vinny Del Negro took a different tack on the Clippers' small forward production issue - he just didn't play them. Gomes scored two points in a season low 13 minutes. Al-Farouq Aminu scored two points in 9 minutes. Jamario Moon got a DNP. In 22 minutes, the ostensible small forwards on the team combined for 4 points and 3 rebounds. VDN went with a three guard lineup for more than half of the game in an apparent admission that he just wasn't going to get a lot from his threes. Eric Bledsoe (24 minutes), Randy Foye (30), Williams (27) and Gordon (41) all played at least 10 minutes more than Gomes. It will be interesting to see how this plays out down the stretch.
With the Suns coming in tomorrow still fighting for a playoff spot, the Clippers will need to get more help from the supporting cast for Griffin and Gordon. But with Gordon back, everything gets easier.