The Los Angeles Clippers got a sorely needed victory Wednesday night in Orlando against the Magic. With both teams missing four of their best players, it was left to a ragtag collection of reserves on both sides to settle it on the court. The Clippers started incredibly slowly, but picked it up in the second half and eventually pulled away for a relatively comfortable win.
And that's a couple hours of my life I'm not going to get back.
We assumed that Chris Paul was going to miss another game with his bruised knee cap and supposed that Blake Griffin would join him on the sidelines with his strained hamstring. What we didn't know was that Jamal Crawford would sit out after tweaking his shoulder in Washington Monday night (that's in addition to his broken nose of course). Griffin, Crawford and Paul are the team's top three scorers, and number four isn't particularly close. Chauncey Billups, who has only played three games all season, came closest of the four of them to actually seeing the court and will almost certainly play against Miami on Friday barring a setback.
On the Orlando side they were missing three of their top three scorers in Arron Afflalo, J.J. Redick and Glen Davis, as well as Hedo Turkoglu. On a Magic roster filled with young and relatively unknown players, Afflalo, Redick, Davis and Turkoglu (along with Al Harrington who has been out all season ) represent well over half of the Orlando players Charles Barkley has heard of. Jameer Nelson did return to the Orlando lineup after missing a couple of games himself, and for long stretches of the first half it seemed as if Nelson was the only legitimate NBA player on the court for either team.
The first quarter was as ugly as NBA basketball gets. Ralph and Mike quipped that it felt like a summer league game, but frankly while the skill level seemed about right, there's more energy in the summer league. Both teams started the game on a turnover per minute pace, but it didn't much matter since no one could score even when they did hold onto the ball. At one point in the second quarter the teams had combined for 15 turnovers, but had yet to score a single point off of those turnovers.
A scintillating sequence of three straight dunks by DeAndre Jordan finally served to get the Clippers going a bit, and also got them back into the game.
Frankly, I've already spent more time on this game than it warrants, but here are some quick thoughts in parting:
- Eric Bledsoe had a career high 27 points, but that was mostly a function of taking a career high 21 shots (he made nine). With so much of the offense sitting on the bench, someone had to take the shots, and fortunately for Bledsoe some of his jumpers went in. He didn't have a particularly "Bledsoe" game on offense -- he missed a dunk and missed another breakaway layup and was generally less than stellar finishing around the basket. No telling how many points he would have had if he had been really dialed in. He did however have a "Bledsoe" game on the other end, with three blocked shots and six steals. According to the box score he was +24 in 41 minutes, which means that his teammates were -14 in 7 minutes with him off the floor. Seems like he was important tonight.
- Jordan was spectacular on four separate offensive moves (three in a row in the first quarter and one later in the game) -- and fine the rest of the time. The moves he did make were so impressive, so seemingly unstoppable, it makes one wonder why it can't happen more often. But one simply needs to accept that it can't, because that's not who he is. It would be nice to think that the Clippers could go to Jordan against a favorable matchup from time to time when they need a bucket -- but then again, is that really what anyone wants to see in a playoff game?
- The Clippers third best player was -- Ryan Hollins, with 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots in a season high 24 minutes. It's great that Ryan responded when given a chance to contribute; but let's face it, if everyone is healthy, he's not playing. It would have been better if Lamar Odom or Grant Hill or another rotation player had broken out a bit. Oh well, glad that Hollins was there because the Clippers might not have won without him.
- Odom did have a career high six steals and he made a couple of jump shots (including his first three pointer in over a month). But he also battled foul trouble all night and was mostly a non-factor on offense. It's becoming obvious that while Odom can help a great deal as a long, smart defender and as a ball-mover on offense, he is just not going to get any semblance of offensive game back, so the Clippers won't be able to count on him to do more than fill a role. It's an important role, but it's too bad he won't be able to do more.
Ralph is not usually one to get people's hopes up for no reason, but he was constantly speculating on the likelihood that Billups, Paul and Griffin would all play against the Heat on Friday. As he said many times, there are no guarantees, but given how frequently he brought it up, it certainly seemed as if he knew something. It will be nice to have a full strength Clippers team out on the floor again, whenever it happens. I think I've seen enough of this one to last me a while.
For the Magic perspective, visit Orlando Pinstriped Post.