For the second time on the young season, the Clippers won ugly. This one wasn't as ugly as the Denver game, but it was pas jolie.
As I predicted, they came out flat. They actually had a pretty nice start - 4 layups, an EB jumper and some free throws gave them a 14-9 lead 6 minutes in, with Zach Randolph on the bench with 2 fouls. But the Clippers made one shot the final 7 minutes of the quarter, and the Blazers came back to tie it up after one.
The Clippers never really established their dominance, but it is a tribute to how good this team has become (and how high our expectations are) that they built a double digit lead in the third quarter, and never trailed by fewer than 9 points in the fourth.
Zach Randolph scored 35 for the Blazers, but he had almost no help at all. Jarrett Jack had a nice first quarter, but did little thereafter. Brandon Roy was bothered by a sore achilles tendon, and played on 14 lackluster minutes, which is bad news for my fantasy team.
For a second straight game, the Clippers displayed their balance. This time they had 5 players in double figures, and two more with 8. Dunleavy stuck with his eight man rotation, and seven of the eight played between 28 and 33 minutes. Corey led the team in scoring off the bench with 20 points in 28 minutes, so his campaign for the Sixth Man Award is right on track.
For the second time in only 4 games, Elton Brand scored only 8 points. By contrast, he was held below double digits in exactly none of his 91 games last season (including the playoffs). Elton is a notoriously slow starter, but something else is going on here. I wasn't happy when Elton got a mere 22 shots against Phoenix on opening night - and since then he's taken 9, 10 and 8. Teams are definitely double-teaming him right away this year, and he's such an unselfish guy, he passes out of the double. But for the Clippers to be an elite team, they need an elite scorer, and Elton is the main candidate. So he's going to have to get a little more selfish, start his move before the double arrives, and make some things happen. (It did seem that Elton jammed his shoulder tonight, and that may have had something to do with the poor offensive performance.) On the other end EB was a monster with 5 blocks.
But the biggest single take away from this game was the trouble the Clippers had scoring against the Portland zone. Midway through the first quarter, the Blazers switched to the zone, and it was a struggle to get buckets from that point on. You can rest assured that the rest of the league took note of that, and that the Clippers will see a LOT of zones until they get better at attacking it.
It stands to reason - it's not s secret that this team's major weakness is outside shooting. 2 for 9 from 3 point range tonight after going 1 for 12 on Saturday. It's not rocket science - I'd sure play zone if I was going against them. There are lots of ways to beat a zone defense - you don't necessarily have to shoot over it. But shooting over it is the easiest way, and you have to be really disciplined to beat a zone without an effective deep threat. You have to cut, make crisp passes, and penetrate the seams when you have a chance - if you stand around (as the Clippers did tonight), you'll be forced into contested jumpers against the shot clock (as the Clippers were tonight). So I think we know at least one thing the Clippers will be working on in practice tomorrow.
Oh and three Dallas comes to town Wednesday - tied with Boston for the worst record in the NBA. They're going to want that first W bad, but we need to kick them while they're down and send them to oh and four.
The Clippers are tied for first in the Pacific Division with the Lakers. So this is day one.