The Hawks were without Al Horford and Marvin WIlliams tonight, two important pieces of their system (Horford in particular). On top of that, this was the final game of a 6 game road trip before heading back home. All these factors made this a game the Clippers HAD to win, and they came out of the gate like they knew it. The Clippers came out swinging with a 17-8 run to open the quarter prompted an Atlanta timeout. Atlanta caught fire after this and both teams finished the quarter shooting ridiculous percentages, with the Clippers at 70%, the Hawks at 68%, an each team knocking down 4 three pointers. The Clippers had a 30-27 lead after one period of play. You would think a game with that kind of shooting would be an exciting barn burner to watch, but it really was anything but. This game was largely uneventful through 3 quarters. The Hawks hung around tonight until the fourth, but the game never felt like it was in jeopordy, as the Clippers were clearly in control.
I find it funny that Josh Smith got the nickname J-Smoov, because that moniker is far better suited for Joe Johnson, who essentially runs the show in Atlanta. Johnson has a terrific release, can shoot the three, and gets into the lane with ease. Johnson is the best scorer, and the facilitator of Larry Drew's offense, which essentially consists of Johnson driving and kicking to someone for a jump shot (sound familiar?). Caron Butler did an admirable job of trying to cover Johnson tonight, but I felt like JJ needed to be more aggressive to give his team a chance to win. He's not the quite guy he used to be, and he certainly isn't worth that max deal, but he's still a heck of a player.
In spite of being a fairly boring game, there were some significant story lines for the Clippers, and hopefully signs of things to come. First off, Caron Butler came out and played a solid game for the Clippers tonight, dropping in 13 points on 5/9 shooting, and connecting on his lone long ball attempt. The rest of the starting lineup balanced their scoring with Blake Griffin dropping in 12, Deandre Jordan 8, Chris Paul with 13, and 5 for Foye on just 3 shots. But it was the Bench of the Clippers that was the big story tonight. The Clippers second unit played with a defensive intensity that changed the course of the game, flustering the Hawks offense and playing a big part in the 15 turnovers of the of the Hawks. Mo Williams was brilliant, dropping in 25 points on 9/18 shooting and Reggie Evans gave some great minutes tonight, dropping in 6 points to go along with 10 boards. But the hero was none other than Eric Bledose, who had his finest game of the season with 14 points,4 steals, some electrifying blocks at the rim, and a defensive intensity that carries over to the rest of his team mates. The second unit was so effective that Coach Del Negro was able to sit his starters for most of the fourth quarter, which is a blessing considering the Clippers are back at it again tomorrow night against the Phoenix suns.
Sure the Hawks were short handed tonight, and sure, they were probably looking forward to heading home. But a win is a win, and the Clippers have lost their share of games they SHOULD have won lately. Sometimes a win is all you need to get back on track. But as good as getting a W felt for Clips Nation, it had to feel equally as good for Vinny Del Negro, who no doubt has hear the grumbling of citizens calling for his head following the poor play of his squad as of late. I was certainly one of those grumbling citizens after watching us throw away that game against Boston with Bobby Simmons in at the 4, but I had a thought just before this Atlanta game. The Clippers have no slashing wings. Butler does not have the athleticism to get into the lane and finish at the rim like he used to. Randy Foye may have the quickness but not the finishing ability. With teams focusing on Blake and Paul, the wings on
this squad are all Jump shooters, and when they are not connecting, it is really tough to win. While Chauncey Billups may not be known as a slasher, he added to his 40% 3 point shooting by getting to the free throw line 5 times a game! Compare that with Butler and Foye who get to the stripe about once a game each. The Clippers are not getting enough easy points, and this is why they are struggling lately. Vinny has to share some of the blame, and I would be all for replacing him anyway, but the problem is more than just offensive schemes at this point. If there is no deal made by tomorrows deadline, the Clippers better hope that Caron Butler continues to knock down some shots, and Bledsoe can lead the second unit to create points off of their defense and carry us while Paul and Blake sit. If not, its gonna be an interesting ride to the finish.
Blake Griffin Free Throw Watch:
Blake was 2/4 tonight, but the two misses were consecutive air-balls. Would like to see more attempts and fewer airballs going forward.
What an athlete. He isn't a a brilliant point guard/distributor in the mold of Chris Paul, but boy can he make plays. Great speed in the open court, a good on ball defender, and blocks shots at the rim like no guard I have ever seen before. I admit that I have never been a buyer of Eric Bledsoe stock, but I can definitely appreciate what he can bring off the bench. He also has shown the ability to knock down the 3 with when he has his feet set. As i mentioned before, he needs to be a contributing factor going forward (provided he doesn't get dealt at the deadline).
The Clear Path foul:
What an atrocious call. The call that went against Kenyon Martin in the second half tonight was a travesty, in my opinion it wasn't only NOT a breakaway foul (acceptable double negative?), it goes against the spirit of the rule. Kenyon Martin got ahead of Josh Smith and went for a steal from the side. This was not a player chasing down a play form behind trying to prevent a fast break dunk and slow down the game. This was a guy making a great basketball play and almost coming away with a steal. I truly can't believe the call went the way it did after reviewing the play. And it could have had a major impact on the game, as Atlanta came away from the possession with 5 points, hitting a three after the two free throws.