I knew that Chris Kaman was having a strong second half, but I really didn't get the significance until I looked at the play-by-play. With under six minutes to go, after the Wizards had cut the lead to 2 points, the closest they had been since early in the third quarter, Kaman had a stretch of 4 minutes of great, game-saving basketball. Bear in mind, in most cases he wouldn't even be on the floor in crunch time, but MDsr realized that Kaman was having a solid half, and left Tim Thomas on the bench.
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At the end of the 4 minutes, Kaman has 7 points, 4 rebounds, and a key challenge to Arenas' lay up attempt, and the Clippers have a seven point lead with under a minute to go. It was a little more of an adventure than it should have been to close it out, but they managed to get there for their 4th straight win.
The game started out as a disaster for Kaman. In the first half, he was 0 for 2, with 2 turnovers, 1 rebound and about 100 missed box outs on Etan Thomas who was killing the Clippers on the offensive boards. Kaman's lackluster efforts earned him the early hook in favor of Aaron Williams for the last 7:43 of the half.
Considering that Chris finished the game with 17 points and 9 rebounds and those same 2 turnovers, we can safely assume that someone in the Clippers locker room got through to the big guy at halftime.
To some extent, Kaman's two halves were a microcosm of the team. Despite the absence of Caron Butler and a poor showing by Gilbert Arenas (credit the defense of Jason Hart and Quinton Ross on that one), the Clippers trailed much of the first half. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a disaster - but it wasn't a particularly strong half of basketball. The Clippers trailed by one at intermission.
But to their credit, after Kaman sank a hook shot about 30 seconds into the second half, the Clippers never trailed again. Maybe I wanted another 30-point win, but leading for the final 23 minutes and 33 seconds is pretty good too.
Oh, and Corey Maggette had a pretty good game too. OK, so maybe I led with the Kaman thing just to be contrary. The AP story leads with Maggette, and everyone is going to expect ClipperSteve to lead with Maggette. But 29 points on 9 shots in 33 minutes is a pretty amazing line. Corey also had 5 assists, so basically when the ball was in his hands, good things were happening for the team. He had 17 points with under 4 minutes to go, but on three consecutive Clipper possessions he converted a three point play (to double the lead from 3 to 6), set up Kaman for free throws and then made a crucial jumper. He then made 7 of 8 free throws when the Wizards started fouling. After the Clippers blew a big lead in Milwaukee we lamented the absence of a go to guy at the end of a game. Against the Wizards, that guy was Corey Maggette.
To put Corey's line into some sort of perspective, ESPN.com and Elias went back 25 years to find another instance where a player scored that many points on that few... oh, I'll let them explain it:
You have to go back more than 25 years to find the last player who scored that many points in an NBA game in which he didn't make any three-pointers and finished with fewer than 10 field-goal attempts. That player was Bill Cartwright; playing for the Knicks on Nov. 17, 1981, Mister Bill scored 31 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor and a 19-of-19 performance from the line.
(BTW, Citizen mp beat me to the punch with this Elias quote in the Diaries. Well played sir.)
A four game winning streak that started at the end of their road trip has the Clippers within 2 games of .500 and a full game ahead of the Warriors for the final playoff spot. Three consecutive wins over clubs well over .500 also makes the remaining schedule seem even softer by comparison - of 12 remaining games, 6 are against teams under .500, 3 against the Lakers and Denver, and only 3 against the top teams, starting with a re-match with the Rockets Wednesday that the Clippers have got to be looking forward to.
Meanwhile the Nuggets, now only 1.5 games ahead of the Clippers and coming to Staples in April, have 10 of their final 15 on the road, including games at Cleveland, at Detroit and at Phoenix before the end of March. It is not inconceivable that the Clippers could catch them within the week. And I think we can safely say that the Clippers would rather see the Suns than the Mavs in the first round.
But they have to get there first. This is the team we remember. Did they show up in time?