The Clippers won their fourth road game of the season, beating the Hornets 100-90 in Oklahoma City. The Hornets were without their four best scorers, adding to a string of undermanned road victims for the Clippers. It is fairly clear that the Clips would dominate on the road in the D League or even against Summer League teams. But they still haven't won outside of Staples Center against a team playing with their leading scorer, or say four of their starters.
But enough cynicism. Welcome back, Sam. We missed you. Could it really be this simple? Is it all just a matter of having Sam at full strength? Sam has suffered from a variety of injuries all season, but he's certainly been less than 100% since tweaking an ankle when he stepped on Reggie Evans foot in Denver on November 26. During the 23 games since, including that Denver game and before tonight, the team was 9-14.
Not that 6-5 in the first 11 games was great, but we certainly think back on those days fondly now.
Sam had his third 30+ point game of the season, scoring 31 in 35 minutes, on 11 for 23 shooting, including 3 for 5 on threes. This is all the more remarkable when you consider (a) it was Sam's first game action in 23 days, (b) he was 1 for 6 in the first quarter of this game, and (c) he was 4 for 28 from beyond the arc on the season. In fact, if Sam's shoes were a little smaller, he would have doubled his season three point output, as he also made a 23'8" shot early in the second half.
This one started as dismally as the Hawks game, with the Clippers trailing after the first quarter 26-15. In fact, going back to the Wizards game, that made a string of 8 consecutive quarters where the Clippers had averaged around 19 points per quarter. The first quarter of this one was as bad as it gets on offense; they benefitting from 2 defensive three second technicals and still only scored 15 points. And as mentioned, Sam started the game 1 for 6.
In the end, the Hornets simply didn't have enough horses. Had it not been for some unlikely Desmond Mason baskets in the third quarter (followed by 3 straight Mason airballs), the Clippers would have run away with it earlier. As it was the Clippers dominated the fourth quarter, 28-17.
Sam's heroics are a good news / bad news scenario. Watching Sam at the top his game certainly makes one wonder if Shaun Livingston will ever be a tier one NBA point guard. Sam shoots every shot like he's going to make it, like he owns it, like he was born to take it, even if he's missed 5 straight (or 20 straight, it doesn't matter). Shaun shoots like he's taking medicine. He could make 5 straight, and look tentative on the 6th one. Given that Sam is 37, it's not a particularly good feeling to be this dependent on the guy. Not when Phoenix and Dallas and San Antonio are so much better than the Clippers right now.
Likewise Chris Kaman, the Clippers' other 'young star' (in quotes because it is quite debatable) was wholey unimpressive tonight; 2 for 5 in 22 lackadaisical minutes. If Brand, Kaman and Livingston were untouchable in the Iverson trade talks, if those three are the future of the franchise... well, in the words of Ralph Lawler, yikers.
But for the time being, it's just nice to have a present again. And the present features Sam Cassell. Heading into Minnesota, where Sam will have lots of extra motivation, and where the Clippers have the extra incentive of playing a team ahead of them in the standings, I for one am glad to have Mr. Cassell (2 S's, 2 L's) back.
A few post scripts...
P.S. 1 - Anyone wonder what might have happened in MDSr had played Sam in Atlanta? If he was this good tonight, would he not have helped a listless team on Saturday?
P.S. 2 - Has anyone seen Corey Maggette anywhere? I mean, in the background near the bench, near the huddle on timeouts? I haven't.
P.S. 3 - Did we sign Luke Jackson to be a practice player? With Maggette apparently not in the building and Tim Thomas in first half foul trouble, it seems like that was the time to have a look at the new guy. Don't get me wrong... I love James Singleton and wish MDSr would play him more consistently. James played a major role in the second quarter comeback, but it just seems to me that if you signed Jackson, you should play him. Only 9 more days before you have to decide if you're going to give him another contract.
P.S. 4 - Does anyone understand the 'Clear Path Foul' rule? It's clear that I do not, and either Elton Brand or Jack Nies doesn't either.