What an interesting game. There was really a lot going on in this one.
First of all, the much anticipated debut of the Clippers three bigs was a big bust. Chris Kaman played only 12 minutes - the team decided to shut him down with a sore foot after the first quarter. And Zach Randolph was horrible. Whether it was nerves on his new team, or rust from a week off, or confusion in the new offense, or simply an off night, Z-Bo missed 7 of his first 8 shots, most of them pretty badly. At least Marcus Camby played well against his old team, with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
But what the Clippers lacked in front court production, they made up in the backcourt. Eric Gordon put up 24 points on 14 shots in his second NBA start after scoring 25 points on 16 shots in his first pro start. Once again he made 4 three pointers, and once again he played tough defense, coming up with 4 steals and 2 blocks, including a crucial block on Chauncey Billups down the stretch. I think we can safely assume that he is now, and for many years to come, the Clippers starting 2 guard. Baron Davis also had a productive game with 18 points and 10 assists, and Mike Taylor was once again a great spark off the bench with 12 points. It was Taylor's steal late in the third quarter that snapped the team out of a long slumber and got them back into the game.
Unfortunately, the Clippers had no one who could defend Carmelo Anthony. In years past, Clipper-Nugget games have featured Q Ross and Cat Mobley tag teaming Melo, and the Clippers have had a decided advantage in the series because of the job they've done. With both of those guys gone, LA had no one who could stop the guy without fouling him. Melo shot 16 free throws for the game, making 14 of them. Al Thornton fouled out in 28 minutes of play, and Mardy Collins picked up 3 more fouls in 7 minutes. Melo finished with 30 points.
Speaking of free throws, the Nuggets took 43 of them - 14 more than the Clippers. It's not an exaggeration to say that the Nugget won the game at the line. Or maybe it's that the Clippers lost the game there. The Clippers managed to miss 8 of their 29 free throws (72%) while the Nuggets made 36 of 43 (84%).
Unfortunately, the Clippers seem completely incapable of winning close games. After accruing six double-digit losses in their first 9 games, they have a win and three final possession defeats in their last six. The bad news is, those losses look exactly the same in the standings. In this one, they battled back from 13 down late in the third quarter, and then erased all of an eight point Denver lead in the final 2 minutes. They even got the last stop they needed. But they still couldn't break Lawler's Law.
It was also interesting to see Kim Hughes run the team. With MDsr not back from Dallas where he attended a funeral, Hughes was sitting in the first chair. He seemed to give the team more rein, and nowhere was this more evident than on the final play. Down 1 with 32 seconds to go, the Clippers got the stop and the rebound they needed, and took possession with 12 seconds left. Now, that's a guaranteed time out for MDsr, but some people argue that stopping the clock in that situation just let's the defense get set, and it's threfore better to try to get the winning score in transition. Hughes eschewed the time out, and had Baron push the ball up court. Unfortunately, the shot the team wound up with - a three point attempt by Marcus Camby from the top of the arc - could hardly have been the shot they wanted. So remember that the next time you lament control freak MDsr calling a time out to set up a final shot.
The losses keep mounting, but there's no question that the team is more fun to watch right now. Gordon has led the team in scoring for two straight games, but truthfully he got the majority of his points tonight on kick out threes and filling a lane on the break. When they start going to him and getting him more looks, he's really going to go off. Mike Taylor is a blur out there. He went past Anthony Carter while dribbling on one break, and Carter started about three steps ahead of him. Randolph will settle in and make some shots. Let's hope Kaman's foot is OK.
I guess what I'm saying is, I'm actually looking forward to the Miami game. The Clippers will win that one.