The Los Angeles Clippers broke their four game losing streak with a 101-95 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night in the return to action for Chauncey Billups. It was perhaps more of a struggle than it should have been -- this was still a two point game into the final minute -- but the Clippers made the key plays down the stretch to win the game.
Looking at the shooting percentages, one might have thought the Clippers should have won handily. After all, they held the Wolves under 38 percent from the field while shooting almost 46 percent themselves. But a massive rebounding advantage for the Wolves (64-42) and 35 Minnesota trips to the free throw line kept it interesting. Kevin Love was at the center of all of those disparities -- he struggled from the field making just 3-12 with what seems to still be a sore hand, but went after every rebound on his way to grabbing 12 and took 16 free throws.
For the Clippers the big story was Billups' return to game action. He wasted no time, taking and making a three pointer for the team's first points of the game and his first basket in almost 10 months. He also got to the line twice in the first quarter on his way to seven quick points. Those turned out to be his only points of the game, and he definitely appeared rusty on a couple of different occasions -- but he was out there on the floor at the end with the game on the line, which is what you want to see if you're a Clippers fan. He's so automatic from the free throw line that the Wolves refused to foul him with 20 seconds left, and instead allowed him to throw an alley oop to DeAndre Jordan for a game sealing dunk.
The fact that the team shot as well as it did is pretty remarkable when you consider some of the individual shooting nights involved: Billups finished 1-5, Eric Bledsoe was 1-6, Caron Butler was 1-8 two nights after scoring 33 while making nine three pointers, and Jamal Crawford was 2-10. As you might have guessed, some of the other Clippers picked up the slack, especially Jordan (6-7) and Matt Barnes (6-9).
Barnes basically ran his way to his 13 points. He scored five layups, four of them finishing fast breaks and the fifth cutting to the basket off an in bounds play. He added a corner three for good measure. We mentioned heading into this game that the Clippers have not been running nearly as much during their losing streak -- they got out on the break much more in this one and those easy baskets make a big difference.
Jordan was huge for the Clippers in the fourth quarter -- a time when he would have found himself on the bench during the first four years of his career. At one point he demonstrated why he rarely played with the game on the line, missing a pair of free throws with the Clippers clinging to a two point lead and two minutes remaining. But he redeemed himself a minute later when he finished a fast break with an emphatic dunk in traffic and then completed the three point play to give the Clippers a five point lead. He also had three offensive rebounds in the fourth, an assist for a Blake Griffin dunk after one of them, and the aforementioned alley oop dunk that sealed the win with 17 seconds remaining. His defensive rebounding -- just two in 27 minutes of play -- was disappointing, but all in all a nice game for DeAndre after a week he'd rather forget.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 23 and 18 respectively, but did so in almost nondescript fashion. Paul was 7-13 from the field and a perfect 8-8 from the line to go along with 11 assists; Griffin made 9-17 and played some good defense on Love, despite battling foul trouble all game long.
As we suspected, Willie Green dropped out of the rotation with the return of Billups. Bledsoe dropped down to 14 minutes, but it wasn't exactly his best game so that's understandable. Of course Billups was held to fewer than 20 minutes of action and that number will go up, so there will continue to be pressure on minutes distribution. But it's definitely a good problem to have, to have too many good players to choose from.
I wouldn't exactly say that this win gives me the feeling that the team has righted the ship, but it's a start. They did play good defense from a point about midway through the second quarter, which is good news. However the rebounding was pretty terrible (though Minnesota is of course a very good rebounding team) and they committed far too many unnecessary fouls (Minnesota won the third period 22-19 in a constant parade to the line). The team is also developing an unfortunate habit of picking up technical fouls at inopportune moments -- three more tonight. Technical fouls and flagrant fouls cost them against New Orleans Monday -- they're fortunate that they didn't cost them again tonight.
The team now has a couple days before their next game, Saturday night versus Sacramento. With Billups back in the lineup the team is approaching full strength, with only Grant Hill still missing among the rotation players. They are certainly capable of playing better than they did tonight -- but after four straight losses, the win feels plenty good.
For the Minny perspective on the game, be sure to visit Canis Hoopus.
|Final - 11.28.2012||1||2||3||4||Total|
|Los Angeles Clippers||23||34||19||25||101|