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Clippers 97 - Bulls 91

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As you'll no doubt recall, the Clippers did not get their first road victory last season until Dec. 9.  This time around, the got it on their first try, 97-91 over the Bulls.  We've all been trying to keep some perspective, to not get too excited about the first few games of what is a ridiculously long and difficult season.  And sure, the Clippers have played three teams who are now 0-12 between them.  But forget all that.  The Clippers are 3-0 with two wins against playoff teams from last season including a road win.  No one saw that coming.  

If you were following on the live thread, you know that I had to take ClipperZoe to and from gymnastics and consequently saw very little of the game live.  I listened on the radio, and I'll go back and review stuff on the TiVo later.  But I wanted to get a recap posted tonight.  I may make some updates tomorrow based on my TiVo review.

The game was really two very different halves.  The first half a white hot Cuttino Mobley led an overall hot attack to a 57-52.  With Mobley scoring 24 points on 10 for 10 shooting and the Clippers as a team making 7 of 11 three point shots, it would have been nice to have had more than a 5 point lead.  And in fact, that lead melted away pretty quickly when the shots stopped falling.

The Clippers cooled off considerably in the second half.  At one point they were 8 for 32, and 5 of those 8 were by Chris Kaman.  The rest of the team was frigid. They went over 6 minutes in the third period without a field goal, but amazingly, they still led by a point to begin the fourth, as Chicago was not much better and only cut into the Clippers lead by 5 points during the drought.  

They stayed cold for the better part of the fourth quarter, and when Ben Gordon made his only three of the night with a little over 4 minutes left, the Bulls had their biggest lead of the night at 89-85.  

And then something very strange happened.  The Clippers, playing on the road against a playoff team, without their best player, finished the game on a 12-2 run to win going away.  Chicago did not score another field goal the rest of the game.

Hustle will keep teams in games.  Hot shooting, like in the first half tonight, is great when you get it but it will come and go.  The simple fact of the matter is the Clippers have been the better team in the fourth period of all three of their wins so far this season.  These wins are not flukes.  This team is completely outplaying their opposition when it counts.

It appears that the Clippers have an almost limitless supply of fearless veterans who are just itching to take big shots with the game on the line.  Mired in a 2 for 11 shooting night, Corey Maggette missed an ill-advised jump shot at the 3:10 mark when the Clippers had a chance to tie the game.  Unshaken, all he did from that point was tie the game on a fast break dunk, give the Clippers the lead on a three pointer, secure a crucial rebound and heady timeout with a minute to go, and make a couple free throws to ice the game.  He ended up with a horrid 4 for 15 shooting night, but still managed to put up 18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and only 1 turnover.

Meanwhile Mobley has completely reverted to 24-year-old-Rocket-Mobley.  10 for 10 in the first half is one thing - some times guys get in a zone and the ball just keeps going in.  But it's his bad-ass attitude that I can't get over.  He takes big shot after big shot, scoring significant buckets in the fourth quarter of all three wins thus far.  Tonight it was Mobley's fade away over Hinrich (a shot almost identical to one he made over Baron Davis last Friday in the fourth) that gave the Clippers a five point lead with 1:20 to go.

And Kaman continues his early season rebirth.  In three games, he has three double doubles.  Tonight it was 16 points and 11 boards, including 6 boards in the crucial fourth quarter.  His 8 for 10 shooting is the kind of night he had frequently 2 seasons ago, but almost never last year, which explains why his field goal percentage fell so precipitously.  He also had a crucial fourth quarter block for the second game in a row, this one igniting the fast break that resulted in Maggette's game-tying dunk.  

A few more miscellaneous observations:

  • Ben Gordon once again looked completely overrated in a game against the Clippers.  He was 4 for 18 on the game, being guarded by Brevin Knight most of the evening.  This guy puts up huge numbers against the rest of the league, but he is consistently abysmal against the Clippers.  For some reason the Clippers have just owned a few players the last few seasons (Gordon, Kevin Martin of the Kings, Carmelo to a lesser extent).  
  • MDsr tweaked his starting lineup, going with Knight and Mobley over Sam Cassell and Quinton Ross.  Obviously it paid off to the tune of 33 from Cat.  But as citizen Zhiv has suspected all along, without Q in the starting lineup, MDsr was hard-pressed to find any minutes for his defensive specialist.  It doesn't help Q's cause the Knight is such a good perimeter defender, and Patterson is also tough on D.  As of right now, it looks like Q is the odd man out.  Which then begs the question, why would you start him?  The way Mobley is playing (he's tops on the team at almost 24 points per game after three games), will he continue to come off the bench?
  • Cassell griped about not getting fourth quarter minutes in the media this week, and then got zero forth quarter minutes and only 18 minutes total tonight.  He looked engaged and enthusiastic on the sidelines in the fourth quarter, but he's made it clear that he thinks he can play more.  He wasn't having a great night - he was 2 for 10 - so maybe he was ok with MDsr sitting him.  But somehow I doubt it.  
  • Al Thornton got a little more playing time and played well.  He is still pressing a little on offense, but appears to be getting more comfortable.  He was on the floor in the second quarter when the team built up a 13 point lead, and he made his first career NBA three pointer in this game.  He's going to be fine.  In fact, he's another reason that Ross is likely to get left out of the rotation.  
  • Ben Wallace is so very, very bad on offense... it's embarrassing.  He missed an absolute layup in the first half.  Worse still, in the third quarter he for some reason decided to drive to the basket from the top of the key.  The "shot" he put up did not draw iron.  He finished the game 1 for 6 from the field, 0 for 2 from the line.  Think Chicago would like to have their $60M back?  Think they'd like Tyson Chandler back?  Now imagine how they're going to feel in two years, when Wallace has faded that much more, and they're still paying him $14M, and a couple of their young players have moved on because they didn't have the money to pay them.  

As for the Clippers, it's off to Indianapolis, where a 4-0 start awaits.