On the face of it, this is nothing but good news for the Los Angeles Clippers. An away win against a tough, big, unfamiliar opponent, against a team with one of the two or three best players in the NBA. They used their skill, and their guile to construct an unlikely, hard won, overtime victory against the Orlando Magic, a foe who seemed to have them stopped on multiple occasions.
But then there is reality. With 5:48 remaining in the fourth, Chauncey Billups, who'd hit five three-point shots already, went down untouched in the open court while turning to chase after a change of possession. The play went on, but Billups didn't get up. Time out was called, the Clippers gathered over their veteran teammate and finally they carried him from the court.
Slowly, as the game battle wore on, we learned that Billups had an "Achilles -related injury". After the game, Steve Kyler (from Hoopsworld) and later, ESPN delivered devastating, if somewhat incomplete news... Chauncey Billups has suffered what looks to be a tear in his Achilles tendon. Now, we have to be careful about this: all of our info, at this point, is conjecture. Until an MRI is performed tomorrow, we don't really know anything. But apparently, despite a rousing Clippers victory, the demeanor in the Clipper locker room after the game was...somber.
I thought I had a lot to write about tonight. I took notes, I scribbled little genius bits of wordplay, and now it all seems kind of irrelevant. I've surrendered to a rather black mood. Chauncey Billups is thirty-five, an Achilles tear might well end his career. I hope not, I hope it's just a sprain. I hope, even if it's a tear, he comes back, but... judging by the pain he was in, judging by the tweets, and swirling rumor... it doesn't look good.
We don't get to see much of the Orlando Magic out here in the far far west, but we know something about them: we know that they have Dwight Howard, a gigantic, muscle-bound dude who wants desperately to leave Orlando and join his friends in let's see, Dallas, Los Angeles, or Brooklyn... or maybe New Jersey. I'm not sure, and neither, apparently, is he. We also know the Magic have Hedo Turkoglu who used to have some talent but that went away when his salary got very large, and they have this guy Ryan Anderson, a young power forward who seems to be having a breakout year. They also have Jameer Nelson, returning after missing several games because of a concussion, who is small but seems to have a will of iron.
But Howard's the thing. He's considered one of the two or three best players in the NBA. When he walked on the court tonight, you could see it... the guy has absolutely superhuman dimensions. Really, he makes his counterpart DeAndre Jordan look absolutely tiny. Of course the Clippers have their own superman in Blake Griffin who regularly destroys (or attempts to destroy) many and sundry large basketball players who might happen to get in his way. These two guys are like superheroes. They even wear costumes.
The Clippers came out flat. and Howard started off magnificiently. He was a one-man wrecking crew in the first quarter and the Clips looked out of sorts. DeAndre Jordan was overly-respectful of Howard's game and seemed determined to avoid fouls (and embarassment) in the face of Dwight's greatness. Clips are down by 30 to 21 at the end of the first.
Things weren't going well at all for the Clips into the second, they seemed to sprint forward a bit, but then a fellow named Quentin Richardson entered the game (is it possible that he's the same guy who played for the Clips back in the zeroes? Used to bang on his head and act strange?). He calmly picked up where we left him ten years ago, hit a three, and made it 37 to 23. Could it be the same guy? Nah.
Then, suddenly, with Chris Paul on the bench, and a lineup of Mo Williams, Billups, Blake Griffin, Reggie Evans, and Caron Butler, the Clips figure it out and go on a 14 to 2 tear. They seem to say, "The hell with it, let the big guy beat us, we're gonna beat everybody else." This very entertaining lineup actually featured two consecutive baskets by Reggie Evans, I kid you not. One was a very solid looking twelve footer. That's right, a twelve footer by Reggie Evans... doctor, my eyes.... By the half, Clips had closed the gap and are down only by five, 47-42.
The second half was quite different. Chris Paul seemed to wake up in his coffin, struck by the light of the pearly moon, and say to himself, "Damn, I'm Chris Paul." And then he proceeded to prove it. In the first half, Paul had nine points and two assists. He finished with a monster game, 29/8/7.
Of course it wasn't easy, Vinny, the beastmaster, tried a variety of strategies. Not all of them worked, but they were certainly interesting. At one point, at the end of the third, Vinny went tiny with Evans, Griffin, Williams, Foye, and Paul. They played even for a couple of minutes, so Vinny goes completely crazy and substitutes Ryan Gomes for Griffin. And he lets this diminutive lineup play into the fourth quarter for around 2 1/2 minutes. Then Vin comes to his senses and puts back in some big guys. But it's not as demented as it seems because that lineup goes +3. I'm not kidding. You could look it up.
In the fourth good stuff happens, Paul takes over, and Billups hits a bunch of threes (he had five). Griffin hits a spin move and the Clips are up by nine. Bells are ringing. Blue sky, puffy clouds. Good stuff!
Then bad stuff happens, the Magic close the gap, Billups goes down and I can't begin to recreate the last few minutes. Suffice to say, it was tied at the end of regulation, Clips had a shot with .5 on the clock, but couldn't bring it home.
Frankly, I was done. The book says, you gotta win an away game in regulation. You gotta step on their necks, all that stuff. But in overtime, the Magic went up by three early and then Chris Paul, in full-on Dracula mode, had two assists, nailed two free throws and got the ball to Caron Butler who went two for three including a superhuman, magical three ball. Game over.
Clips head to Cleveland on Wednesday, another 4pm game. With or without Chauncey Billups. Keep your chin up. You're a goddamn Clipper fan, remember?