Last year, Timofey Mozgov became a verb. Wait. He was a noun, verb, and adjective the way he was described for one play last year. One play that probably changed a franchise. Fortunately for him, he has a lot of game and toughness left to live above it and play to erase it.
Blake Griffin's dunk over Kendrick Perkins the other night was the probably one of the top 5 in game dunks of all time. The "Mozgov" is still in the top 10 of that list I'm assuming as well. That list includes some nasty "facials" (Tracy McGrady on Shawn Bradley, Vince Carter on Dikembe Mutumbo, Tom Chambers over Mark Jackson, Michael Jordan over... everybody, John Starks over... everybody). Timofey Mozgof, however, has learned his lesson and this lesson has translated into something basketball fans are rejoicing over, and Clipper fans are hoping not to see.
I don't think you follow me...
That video is of Mozgov taking down our beloved former Clipper Eric Gordon last year. That play hurt his wrist. For a long time. You remember; the same injury that kept him out 24 straight games and any small hopes we had of making the playoffs after last year's very positive January went right out of the window. About three months prior to this, in the very same game that Mozgov got, well "Mozgov-ed", E.J. drove to the basket on a nice Brian Cook led bounce pass and... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uNx2YPZysY&feature=related (I miss him, honestly).
Fast forward to the third quarter of that fateful game vs. the New York Knicks and the impossible happened. We don't need to go over it. We know what happened. Heck, about 10 million people know what happened.
Last night, we saw something out of Mozgov that has become lost among many NBA pros: the art of "sending a message".
Timofey Mozgov has made it clear for all the NBA to see (his hard foul last night, one near flagrant against Blake last year in Denver, and E.G.'s fall) that getting dunked on is not okay and fouling someone hard at the rim is. His actions are refreshing. I don't see many guys protect the basket with as much pure motivation as he. Especially considering he's the tenth man on what many would call the most complete team in basketball, Mozgov's role is just as important as Nene's footwork, Ty Lawson's explosiveness, and Aaron Afflalo's smothering defense. He doesn't try to intimidate you, he just wants you to know he will NOT get embarrassed and will NOT give up easy baskets to anyone. It is that mind set that makes champions. The Bad Boys, Showtime, Michael's teams, the 2K3-Peat Purp' 'n' Gold all had their version of an enforcer on the defensive side of the ball whether it was Rambis, Lambier, Rodman, or even Rick Fox. Mozgov is underrated in that regard. The game may have changed in the past 20 years, but playoff basketball still looks eerily similar to those fiesty Miami-New York or Seattle-Golden State matchups from the early to mid 90s.
Tim (I hope he doesn't clothes line me for calling him Tim) is a throwback to that time. His skill set is limited at best. Any true hoops fan absolutely loves that though, right? If I were a coach, and I had a guy who was 7'1'' 260 lbs. who is willing to eat up space is the middle, get boards, dunk, and foul the heck out of someone trying to dunk on him, how do I not love this guy? How do I not love guys like him like our own Reggie Evans, Joel Anthony, Josh McRoberts ("McBob"), Marcus Camby, Omer Asik, and Kendrick Perkins?! They do the job that others (Did you see Kevin Durant nearly run away from the dunk after "The Dunk" from Griffin Monday night? Yeah, he's scared) are unwilling and simply afraid to do: be a man. If someone dunks on them, they don't care. It's only one play in one game that may or may not decide the outcome. Their role doesn't change. Notice how all of these guys I just mentioned are on playoff teams as of now. It makes sense. These are the toughest of the tough, the trenchmen, the guys who solidify your roster when they do their job and make you into a contender, and the ones Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr, Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Fratello, and Hubie Brown rave about on national airwaves and appreciate not only as basketball players, but as men. These guys are the ones that make sure guys like Blake, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Iguodala, Josh Smith, and Rudy Gay end up on their butts with two free throws and a bruise rather than more YouTube views. Nine times out of ten they do their job. Forget the Kodak moments. This game is about winning. If I had to trade a Twitter trend of my best interior defender for nine more wins, not only would I do it in a heartbeat but so would my guy. It's 2 points. The game goes on.
Mozgov is that guy for George Karl and the Nuggets, who handily defeated your Los Angeles Clippers last night in part because the Clips were tired, in part because the Nuggets were not tired, and in part that the Nuggets have a lot more edge to them with Timofey Mozgov as their backup center sending Blake Griffin back to earth with a busted lip than the Clippers do with Evans and Solomon Jones as the Clippers' backups. That may not have been the strategy last night, but Vinny Del Negro was quick to see that Mozgov wasn't going to be the one getting hurt last night and took out Griffin, Jordan, and Butler very early in the 4th. Even in laughers they're usually in the game for a little bit in the 4th quarter but yesterday was different. For it wasn't Andre Miller and Al Harrington who really defeated the Clips last night, it was Tim. Blake sent his own and a team message the other night against the Thunder. Don't think for a second Mozgov didnt do that last night with a good hard foul and a little blood under Blake's lip. The message was the same for both of them: "We'll see you in the playoffs, if you dare." As Karl and the Nuggets are literally the only coach/franchise to ever lose to the Clippers in a postseason series, there is a little added incentive from all ends to see this matchup come May.
Today the Clippers signed former Nugget Kenyon Martin. I wonder why...