It wasn't always pretty, it had some twists and turns, and in the final seconds the Los Angeles Clippers dodged a bullet, but all in all this is still a very good win against an impressive Minnesota Timberwolves team. There were so many strange plays in the final four minutes it was easy to lose track of them all. When the Wolves inbounded with seven seconds left down two, the Clippers defended the initial shot by Kevin Martin well, but allowed offensive rebounds to Nikola Peovic and Kevin Love. The tip in that Kevin Love had to tie the game at the buzzer is a shot he would make about 95 times out of 100, if not more, so the Clippers are very, very happy to come away with this win.
The Clippers and Timberwolves are similar teams in that they both rely heavily on their starters, and they both have experienced a huge drop off when they've played their backups this season. So in the second quarter, when both coaches went to their benches, the question was which set of reserves would suck less. On this night, for once this season, it was the Clippers bench who played better, erasing a seven point first quarter deficit with a 10-0 run. The Clippers built their lead as high as 11 a couple of different times -- and the Timberwolves even came back retake the lead a few times -- but from the middle of the second quarter on, the Clippers never trailed by more than a basket, and only trailed for 51 seconds of game time. Each Minnesota run was answered with a Clipper run, which is what you want to see.
The Wolves four big guns were all great -- they got 30 points from Martin, 25 from Pekovic and 23 from Love. Ricky Rubio pitched in with 10 assists and some harassing defense on Chris Paul. Love had a huge game on the boards -- not unusual for him -- finishing with 19 and Pekovic had 10 himself. For Pekovic it was his by far his best game of the season. He's been mired in an early season slump, scoring just 12 points per game while shooting about 40% after averaging over 16 a year ago. But he's always been a Clipper killer, and he did it again, making 11-15 shots for his 25 points. In that sense, this is a particularly good win for the Clippers -- Minnesota has been playing great even without Pekovic making a big contribution -- they were firing on all cylinders tonight.
The battle of the power forwards went to Love tonight -- but Griffin held his own, as the table below indicates.
That's a great game for Griffin. That it wasn't as great statistically as Love's is not a problem.
It must be said that there are times when Love's defense is just pathetic. Twice in the first quarter, once against Griffin and once against DeAndre Jordan, he allowed them to back him under the basket while putting up essentially no resistance then stood there as they scored. He was even called for a foul against Jordan for putting his hands on DJ, though he didn't even try to slow him down. I would have liked to have seen the Clippers go at Love in the post a bit more based on those plays, but the Wolves tried to keep Pekovic on Griffin to avoid the Love-Griffin matchup, and you can't really go to Jordan too much.
The Clippers will undoubtedly lose a game at some point this season based on poor free throw shooting, but happily they can wait a few more days at least for the first time. L.A. matched their biggest lead of the game, 11 points, with five minutes remaining, at 100-89. Soon after, Jordan missed four straight free throws and his replacement Ryan Hollins missed one in a matter of less than a minute, and that, combined with a couple of tough KMart three pointers, a couple of Love free throws and a dunk after a turnover turned an 11 point lead into a two point lead with 3:26 still remaining. The Clippers were able to respond and get the lead back up to six, but it never really felt safe until the final buzzer, as Love's tip hung on the rim and fell out instead of in.
Matt Barnes returned to the Clippers lineup tonight after missing all three games of the road trip with a thigh contusion. His activity was a welcome addition to the team, as for the first time this season he played a bit like the very valuable role player from last season. It started badly, with two turnovers in his first two touches upon entering the game, but after that he settled down. His eight rebounds in 22 minutes -- compared to one each for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick -- were instrumental in avoiding a complete massacre on the boards. The Wolves still got 10 more offensive rebounds than that Clippers did, but they also missed 20 more shots so they had lots of chances. Without Barnes' contribution on the glass, it could have been a lot worse. He also ran himself into nine points and played some tough defense on Martin. It was good to have him back -- now if only Collison can get going, maybe the Clippers bench will be OK.
Jamal Crawford was more than OK for them tonight, hitting a series of huge shots on his way to 18 points on 7-11 shooting. He made three of the Clippers four three pointers, and also had six assists -- most of them leading directly to dunks. He was a team high +13 in 31 minutes. He was really terrific and there's no chance the Clippers win that game without him.
Paul just had his usual, 21 point, 11 assist, four steal night. The double double stat in the NBA is always dominated by bigs who get double digits in rebounds and points -- there are more rebounds available and rebounding averages tend to yield higher numbers than assists. But on the young season, two players have registered a double double each night -- Kevin Love and Chris Paul, with Paul registering double digit assists in every game.
Doc Rivers rotation was a bit of a surprise tonight. After not using Hollins for the past three games, and eschewing the backup bigs altogether in the very successful second half of the game in Houston, Hollins was the first big off the bench against the Wolves. He responded with a several dives to the rim to finish dunks and seven total points. But one wonders if perhaps Dudley's knees were bothering him a bit too much in this game -- he played just over six minutes in the second half, and I see no reason he would not have been an option against the likes of Dante Cunningham.
The Clippers stretch of tough opponents doesn't let up any time soon with the Oklahoma City Thunder coming to town. So far the Clippers are 3-0 at home this season -- each time taking care of business against a hot Western Conference playoff hopeful the rest of the league was buzzing about. Let's hope they run that streak to four straight on Wednesday.