With less than a minute to play and amid some late game heroics by Jason Terry, Chauncey Billups managed to help turn an almost sure Clipper win into a probable loss. Luckily, down only one point, he and the Los Angeles Clippers had one more shot with 4.2 seconds left after Terry just barely tipped an inbounds pass out of the hands of Mo Williams. Billups would inbound the ball with some difficulty, finally passing to Blake Griffin, who wisely gave it right back to Chauncey for a clean look at a three pointer. No matter how dejected a Clipper fan may have been a second before, the shot was so pure you could almost see the ball going in before the fact. Game to the Clippers...and that 10 game losing streak to the Dallas Mavericks coming in to tonight's game, GONE.
It had to be of little surprise that the Clippers were struggling early on in rebounding the ball, and more than a little concerning that Dallas would go on to win the possession battle and use their experience to grind this out, while taking advantage of the absence of Chris Paul, and the Clippers overall fatigue. After all, this was about as comfortable as Dallas could be in LA, after an easy win over Sacramento on Saturday, and with days off before and between the Laker game on Monday and tonight's game. It was also as exhausted as the Clippers could expect to be at home, after a pretty grueling MLK day win over the Nets on Monday, and a quick trip to play the Jazz in Salt Lake City yesterday.
Clearly, Mo Williams changed this negative momentum when he came off the bench with about 6:30 left in the first quarter. He went on to have a first half that has to be some kind of record for a Clipper bench player, scoring 18 points on 7 of 7 shooting. Hitting your first 7 shots, including two three pointers and free throws will do wonders for your team, and if you had to point to one thing that won this game, it was Mo's shooting and overall play. Don't mind the +/- stat line of -6 he acquired tonight, as he was mostly playing with the 2nd unit (names need not be mentioned). Going back to last year's trade, Mo's shooting abilities and true shooting %'s playing alongside LeBron really jumped off the page, and tonight we got a sense of how that could turn into wins, even off the bench. It should also be said, however, that Mo's defensive abilities could also have been somewhat masked against an aging Dallas back-court.
In continuing with the theme of major offense coming from unlikely places, you had to love the points put up by DeAndre Jordan and the way Williams, Foye, and Blake looked for him in this game. He was 9 of 13 from the field tonight, and could this have been a record for most non-dunk makes for DJ? There have been a few similar shooting stat lines put up by DeAndre in his career, but aside from his career high against the Lakers his rookie year, where he made 11 field goals, 9 FGM ties for his career second best, which he's done once in each of the last two years. This was also his fifth career game with 19 or more points scored. Bottom line, if DJ could be incorporated into the offense half this well going forward, it would make us that much more efficient, and hold defenses more accountable. On the minus side of the ledger, were DJ's 3 defensive rebounds, though he may have more than made up for this with 6 offensive boards, and 5 blocks. Overall, encouraging stuff from camp DJ, and I thought he had one of the big plays of the game when he ripped a rebound from Dirk Nowitzki with 21 seconds left and forced a jump ball which he controlled, and where the game should've ended. Unfortunately, Billups lost the ball out of bounds, with the help of the refs not seeing fit to call a foul.
Blake Griffin had his second bad shooting night in a row (6 for 15), and his worst game of the season from the free throw line (2 for 8), but with nearly 40 minutes played against the Nets Monday, it's a good thing Vinny held him to 27 last night because we needed him for all 38 + tonight. Credit to him for fighting harder on the boards (he claimed 17), moving the ball well (7 assists), and making a couple of big shots down the stretch to help notch a big win. The free throw shooting unfortunately, remains a big problem on a lot of levels, and no doubt it needs to get significantly better.
Perhaps more than anything tonight, we saw the good and bad of Chauncey Billups. It's not entirely clear how healthy he is at this point, but against the Nets it seemed like he was playing at about 70% strength or even less at times. If you were watching the ESPN telecast tonight, you might have heard Hubie Brown describe Chauncey's current play as in almost "slow motion" compared to earlier in his career. Hopefully some of this can be attributed to minor injuries he's battling, but it should be pointed out that his game isn't so much PG or SG right now, but somewhere between as a combo guard. We definitely like him taking clean three pointer's, which is what helped him avoid being the goat of this game. Where he seems to struggle is in forcing a move to one side and continuing on with the move no matter how bad of a shot he winds up with. This usually results in a fade-away or some other tough shot, which we can file under shot selection. After his turnover that lead to Terry's first three pointer of the last minute, we saw him force one of these shots on the next possession, helping lead to Terry's second three. Overall, it is or should be an asset to have a guy like Billups who can handle the ball as a shooting guard, but without Chris Paul, we can see how relying on his play-making can be problematic at times, and in looking at his assist to turnover ratio over his last 82 games, the number 2.18 tells you what you need to know.
In looking at the Mavericks tonight, I thought they played a decent game, and of course could've easily ended up winning. After their sluggish start to the season, they went on to run off wins against weaker teams, but that's what good teams do. They'll get Utah next in Utah, and leave Los Angeles 0-2, but they were a coin flip away from winning both games against two tough teams at home. Lamar Odom will no doubt continue to improve and work himself into their flow of things, but what caught my eye was their platoon at center with Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi. Sure, there's a drop off from Tyson Chandler, but you could see where this duo could outperform expectations.
An interesting factor coming into this game was how tired would we be? At least a few of us have guessed, including one Steve Perrin, that maybe a good plan all along was to punt the game in Utah, especially given our long running history of futility playing in the high altitude of Salt Lake City and with it being in the middle of three games in three days. As it turns out, losing in a blowout last night was likely a good thing, or at least better than a close loss, with our starters logging heavy minutes. You have to believe that the extra rest for guys like Blake Griffin went a long way towards pulling out this win. One player who appeared to be most affected by fatigue tonight was Caron Butler, and it says something that we got this win without CP3 and without much production from Butler. It may also say something about VDN's reluctance to play Ryan Gomes any more than he has to.
Looking back, the Clippers have just played a challenging batch of six games, which could more easily be broken down into two sets of three, and they've impressively come out winners in both. The first three were a big test among three of the league's best teams in Portland, Miami, and the Los Angeles Lakers. The second, a different kind of challenge, facing the first set of back to back to back games without Chris Paul, and without Mo Williams for the first two games. While the wins against Miami and the Lakers were more exciting, the wins against New Jersey and Dallas were just as important moving forward. The Clippers are now 7-1 at home, and 1-3 on the road, and while it's great to see us build on what was already a pretty good strength in protecting our home court, the question of how good this team can be will likely be answered on the road, and we'll look for that in February.
Check Mavs Money Ball for the visitor's perspective, though I can tell you they're not very keen on LA or lob city right about now.