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Clippers 96 - Sonics 91

What a gutty performance!  After a terrific start, the team had a lapse and things started to look bad, but they dug deep and finished strong to the roars of the crowd.  And that was just the halftime show!

If you were at the game, you may have seen ClipperZoe.  I was down on the floor watching and taking pictures (mostly of Taylor and Lindsay), but the ClipperWidow tells me that Zoe was up on the scoreboard screen for awhile.  Did you see her?  A blue-eyed, round-faced blond with a pony tail - you know... the cute one?  She had a great time, as you can imagine.

Maggette worked hard on Lewis
Rashard Lewis and Corey Maggette
                                           © Henry Chen, all rights reserved
The game was pretty good too.  It was one of those games where the stars struggled a bit, but some other players played unexpectedly well.  

For the Sonics, if you were to tell me going into this one that Chris Wilcox would go 6 for 6, Earl Watson would score 19 points and have 3 steals, and Nick Collison would be by far the best rebounder on the floor (5 offensive rebounds!), I would have said the Clippers were in big trouble.  Because let's face it, those guys are completely secondary to Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.  But while Allen and Lewis did score 19 and 21 respectively, they were also held to 36% and 35% shooting by the Clippers' defense.  

For the Clippers, Elton Brand came out and missed the only three shots he took in the first half, and finished 5 for 14 overall.  Five minutes into the game you could tell it was not going to be Elton's night - he missed three point blank shots, and although he was fouled on a couple of them, they were really situations where you want and expect the and-one.  Then he went to the line and missed 2 of his first 3 free throws.  Some nights it's like that.

Despite Brand's struggles, 31 combined first half points from Thomas, Cassell and Maggette, plus solid defense by Ross on Allen and Maggette on Lewis and 10 Seattle turnovers (many of them unforced) allowed the Clippers to open a 12 point lead and it looked like they might have an easy night of it.  But a four-point play by Watson in the final minute of the first half cut the lead to 8.

The Sonics came all the way back in the third quarter with Collison grabbing almost every rebound available and Wilcox scoring 8 points including a huge dunk.  The Clippers helped out by committing some silly fouls, including Kaman fouling Watson 35 feet from the basket with 4 seconds on the shot clock and Maggette reaching in to foul Johan Petro with less than a second to go in the quarter.  The Sonics led 75-74 after three.

When Watson made his second three of the game two minutes into the fourth, the Sonics led 81-78.  At that point Watson was 6 for 8 with two threes for a total of 18 points.  This is a guy who plays pretty much exclusively for his defense.  On the season he is shooting 37% overall and 27% on his threes.  As the guy sitting behind me said, 'He's the dude you leave open in the rec league.'  

But the Clippers, for the third game in a row, locked down their defense in the fourth quarter.  The Sonics could only muster 16 points in the final frame, and made only a single field goal in the last 8 minutes of the game.  The Clippers were far from sharp themselves on offense, but were able to make enough points to pull out the win.  Corey Maggette got the game winners from the line with 27 seconds left - the home team did not seem to get a lot of calls in this game, but this one made up for everything.  There was no foul on this play; you rarely get the call when you're as out of control as Maggette was, and you basically NEVER get the call in the final minute.  Just a horrible, horrible call that won the game.  Chris Kaman iced it with 2 more free throws a few seconds later.

As a postscript, Sonics' fans must be thinking 'Earl Watson giveth and he taketh away.'  The final 10 minutes, he scored 1 point, missed 2 shots, threw the ball out of bounds on the most crucial possession of the game with 17 seconds left down 2, and then dribbled away their last chance with 10 seconds left down 4.

These two teams play again tonight in Seattle.  Sam Cassell strained his groin in the fourth quarter last night, and may not be able to play tonight.  If that happens, the Clippers are looking at Daniel Ewing starting, with 10-day-contractor Will Conroy as the backup at the point.  And I'm also pretty sure Ray Allen isn't going to shoot 8 for 22 - QRoss is good, but he's not that good.  So it good be a long night for the Clippers.