Whew, well, that was interesting... in an incredibly frustrating and unsatisfying manner, the LA Clippers went out and played a game that was filled with mental errors, fuzzy math, and surprisingly, a palpable lack of energy.
We knew going in Portland was going to give the Clippers a tough game. We knew they were a good team, long, athletic, and deep. And the Rose Garden has the deserved reputation of being a place that's tough for the away team. And Portland came out playing hard, determined to revenge their loss to the Clippers just last week.
Despite seeing Chris Paul collect early fouls and go to the bench with his fourth foul late in the third quarter, the Clippers did manage to hang in, falling behind by eleven point three times (I counted three anyway), and getting it back to four on three other occasions. Finally, with 26 seconds left, Chauncey Billups made a three point play and got the score to 100-97. But the Blazers made their free throws, the Clips turned the ball over, and the game was done.
Portland's defense was intense and well-designed. They continually frustrated Paul and Blake Griffin and the duo never got into any kind of rhythm all night long. Neither had much going in the first half: Paul had no points, 3 personal fouls (he finished with 11 pts and 3 assists). Griffin had just 4 points and 4 rebounds (but finished at 18/12). He did, in the second half score on a string of fifteen footers from the top of the key, where Portland showed little interest in guarding him. Unfortunately the Blazers matched his streak, trading baskets at the other end.
On defense, the Clips still have a long way to go. The Blazers moved the ball well, shot 51.4% for the game, and had all five starters in double figures... and Nicolas Batum and Jamal Crawford each had 9 off the bench. Balanced scoring, anyone?
DeAndre Jordan had a terrible game. He seemed constantly out of position, repeatedly failed to box out, and showed how much he still has to learn. The Ancient Ones, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas abused their rich young foe. Curiously, and someone else can figure out why, the Clippers actually led in rebounds 39 to 34.
No lobs in lob city? I supposed I might have missed one, but the Clippers didn't throw up or score a single lob pass. The Blazers were simply not going to let that happen on their court.
Mo Williams giveth and Mo Williams taketh away. According to the boxscore Mo played well, scoring 14 off the bench, going 6 for t0 with 4 assists. But every time I looked up it seemed Mo was racing down the court, vaguely out of control and determinedly NOT looking for cutting teammates. I'm shocked to see that he had four assists, because the ball rarely seems to leave his hands if it isn't heading for the rim. Regarding those plays where the Clippers go for the last shot of the quarter (I'm thinking about the end of the third). Is the play supposed to be Williams dribbling down the clock and shooting a long three? That's the play? Really?!.
Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups seemed to play big when necessary, and scored 20 and 19 respectively. But Billups went 5-13 and Butler went 8-19. If they could get those percentages up, Billups in particular, Clippers probably win the game.
Reggie Evans played well, and covered for some of Jordan's errors. He's a welcome addition to the bench. Speaking of the bench, there was a terrible two minutes in the first half where Vinny Del Negro did something he should never ever do. At the beginning of the second quarter, after most of the starting lineup had gotten an eight-point deficit to lead by two, VDN put all his primary bench players on the court. Evans, Ryan Gomes, Randy Foye, Williams, and Brian Cook immediately laid an enormous egg. Within two minutes the Clips were down by six, Vinny called a timeout and re-inserted Chris Paul. Even on the first game of a back-to-back, with no one player in any foul trouble, I see no reason why the Clippers would go ten deep.
We spent the last couple of days talking a lot about the "three-guard-lineup" and we saw it last night for a few minutes around the seven minute mark of the fourth quarter. Evans, Griffin, Billups, Paul, and Williams staged a rally and got the Clippers to within two. So... pretty good results for the small lineup, if only they'd been able to hold onto the lead.
Turnovers: Fourteen. Two by Paul, five by Billups, two more by Williams. Bleh.
**An early morning note: I noticed Fearless Leader's fanshot referring to Brian Cook's -14 in 4:28. Just thought I'd put it on the top of the table. As Steve says, "How is that even possible?"
Finally, Mike Smith made no bones about his displeasure over VDN's decision to foul with the Clips down by three with 26 seconds on the clock. Frankly, I don't know enough to have an opinion one way or the other, but when Dane Blanton asked Del Negro about it in a post game interview, he said something like, "If you don't foul there, you allow them to run down the clock, if they score at the end of the clock, you can't get back in." Okay, I get that, but it seems to me, with some pretty good ballhawks in the backcourt, the Clippers might have wanted to see if they could hector the other team into a turnover or at least rely on your defense to get a stop and have a shot at a tie with at LEAST two seconds on the clock. I'm sure other citizens will check in on the wisdom of Del Negro's strategy.
I'm not going to belabor this. There's another game tomorrow and Steve will no doubt have the preview thread up in just a few hours. No rest for the wicked.