Roughly 62 hours after losing a tough game at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Clippers welcomed the Sacramento Kings into STAPLES Center for an afternoon game. The Kings themselves were coming in off of the same rest after getting upended in Portland on a last second three by Dorrell Wright. This was game #80 for both sides and with just two games remaining, both teams knew what their future was. For the Clippers, they're locked into the 3-seed in what has to be the single toughest Western Conference ever. The Kings, on the other hand, are headed towards the lottery for an eighth straight season. But the game was far from easy for the Clippers.
After smacking the opening tip off out of bounds, DeAndre Jordan stole a lazy pass by rookie Ray McCallum and raced the other way for a sure dunk. Except it wasn't. He cocked his right arm back and ferociously clanked the ball off the iron and it, like the opening tip, went out of bounds. In a weird way, that play probably summed up the first half of this basketball game and possibly even the entirety of the game. At no point during the entire game did the Clippers ever feel not in control of the outcome. They didn't need their "A" game today. They brought their "B-" game for the most part and still were doing okay.
The Kings jumped out to an early 7-3 lead but the Clippers responded with a 7-2 run of their own. The quarter featured some pretty good moments. Blake Griffin had a whirling dervish dunk to put the Clippers up 12-11 and also assisted on an alley-oop to DeAndre Jordan that put the Clippers up 25-20. They exchanged baskets for the rest of the first quarter mostly and it appeared like the Clippers were comfortable going through the motions. The Clippers sported a 27-26 lead after the opening quarter.
The second quarter saw the Clippers bench on the court more than some would hope for but they didn't do terribly outside of contesting shots at the rim. At one point, Hedo Turkoglu hit a step back 21-foot jumper to put the Clippers back in front, 34-33. Little did we know that the fun was just starting. After a defensive rebound, Matt Barnes rifled a one-handed outlet pass to Blake Griffin at the left elbow. Griffin then drew the two defenders, Reggie Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, towards him and delivered an alley-oop pass that only DeAndre Jordan has the athleticism to grab. The Clippers were in the midst of an 8-2 run and led 48-40. And then Mike Malone happened.
I'm not necessarily against the whole Hack-a-Whoever strategy, especially if the guy is an all-time horrific free throw shooter. DeAndre Jordan falls into that category. Among players with 1200 or more career free throw attempts, DeAndre Jordan, who now sports a career mark of 42.7% from the line, is second worst all-time. The only guy worse, Ben Wallace, is arguably a Hall of Famer and shot just 41.4% from the line in his illustrious career. So, I can't fault Mike Malone for doing what he did. In a way, it did work. The Kings cut the deficit from 48-40 to 50-46. One of the two points the Clippers scored in that stretch was actually a Blake Griffin free throw. In the entire Hack-a-Jordan sequence, the Kings outscored the Clippers 6-3 but then they stopped for some reason. Doc Rivers didn't take out DeAndre Jordan until after Chris Paul hit a three to put the Clippers up by 8 with 39 seconds to go in the half. It was weird. Why stop fouling him if he's on the floor when you made up some ground doing it?
The Clippers enjoyed a 56-47 lead going into halftime and came out of halftime by going on a quick little 4-0 run that pushed the lead up to 13 early in the second half. It appeared that perhaps, finally, the Clippers were going to put the Kings away for good. Except they didn't. DeMarcus Cousins, for all of his faults, is one hell of an offensive center. It also didn't hurt that the Kings got 14 points in the third quarter from Ben McLemore. Odder is that he did it on just three field goal attempts. He was 6 of 6 from the line, 3 of 3 from the field, and 2 of 2 from three. 6 of his 14 points in the quarter came in the final 30 seconds when he drained a wing three after Darren Collison and JJ Redick got confused and he also nailed a running three in Redick's face as the buzzer for the quarter sounded which put the Kings down by just 6 going into the fourth.
Early in the fourth quarter, Ben McLemore got whistled for a technical foul that still perplexes me in a way. Well, the technical foul didn't perplex me. It was the actual foul called against Redick in that situation. McLemore ran Redick into a Cousins screen and then slipped. After slipping, he and Redick exchanged what I thought was nothing more than incidental contact. Upon the contact, Redick bowed back and McLemore threw his arms out and caught Redick in the face. It was McLemore's second technical of the game. His first came in the third quarter when he had a little incident with Blake Griffin after Griffin traveled on a fast break. After a superb third quarter, McLemore was gone early in the fourth. They could have used him down the stretch.
After a DeAndre Jordan putback that put the Clippers up 93-89 with roughly 7 minutes to go in the game, the end seemed near. On the next Kings possession, Cousins went right at Blake Griffin but Griffin was able to slide and shuffle his way into Cousins' path and draw the offensive foul. This didn't sit well with Cousins. He and Blake have had this interesting little rivalry going on for a while now and you could see it starting to rise to the forefront again. On the following Clippers possession, Griffin made a beautiful backdoor cut and Redick found him. Griffin couldn't finish but got fouled and sent to the line. He made both free throws. On the ensuing Kings possession, Griffin stole the inbounds pass and raced down the court for a dunk. The Clippers were up by 8 with 6:26 to play. In the span of four possessions, Blake Griffin had drawn a charge on DeMarcus Cousins, a foul on offense where he made both free throws, stole the ball on an inbounds pass, and dunked on the other end. Impressive.
The Clippers were still up by just 6 with six minutes to go before Jamal Crawford drained two threes in 35 seconds to put the Clippers up 12 and it seemed like that would be it. But the Kings, to their credit, kept chipping it back down to down 8. Until, that is, Matt Barnes hit a corner three to put the Clippers up by 11 with roughly 2:30 to go. And that was all she wrote. The Clippers ended the game on a 10-2 run and won 117-101. It was their 56th win of the year, which ties the franchise record that they set last season. There are still two games to go.
In a game that featured two technical fouls and some other roughhousing, I thought Joey Crawford did his best to manage what could have been an extremely volatile situation. I wonder if the NBA assigned him to this game because of that reason alone. The league has to know the disdain that Cousins has towards Griffin, and vice versa, so it wouldn't shock me to know Joey Crawford was out there for that reason. I thought he had a great game. Out of the three referees on the court, he was the best. Zach Zarba, on the other hand, was irking me like no other.
The Sacramento Kings could have a fun future ahead of them but the group of guys they have right now don't complement each other at all. DeMarcus Cousins, despite being a fabulous offensive center, often lollygagged and haphazardly ran back up court after failed offensive possessions. His body language is pretty bad. Then again, DeAndre Jordan was said to have bad body language for a while and, despite him still lollygagging up court at times, he's come a long way. So maybe there's hope.
Also, I miss Reggie Evans. There was a woman and a kid behind me who booed every single Sacramento Kings player and every time a Kings player did something. Even Reggie Evans. In fact, they booed the loudest at him and even, at one point, shouted "I hate you, Reggie!" towards Evans. I was flummoxed. Reggie Evans is the kind of guy who belongs on a winning team, not a losing one. He does the little things, always plays hard, and seems like the perfect locker room guy. How do you boo a guy like that?
As for the Game Ball, it goes to DeAndre Jordan. Despite Blake Griffin having 27 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals, as well as Chris Paul having 17 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds, I felt like DeAndre Jordan had a pretty good game today even with his shortcomings. He had a few bonehead mistakes and a few lapses on defense but he showed up when we needed him. He finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 blocks. We don't win this game without him and that's saying something these days.
Up next for the Los Angeles Clippers are the Denver Nuggets. While the Nuggets are just 35-44 and have been battling injuries all year, they're still not a pushover. They beat Houston and Golden State on back-to-back nights earlier this week and could definitely upset the Clippers in Los Angeles. The Clippers are just 1-2 against the Nuggets this season so it'd be nice to at least not lose the season series to a team that's in the lottery. A win on Tuesday is #57 on the year and a new franchise best.
Stat of the Game: In true Rudy Gay fashion, he was 3 of 14 on contested field goal attempts.
Secondary Stat of the Game: Chris Paul had 10 assists but also had 7 secondary/hockey assists.