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Clippers 103 - Dallas 92

Well, that was more like it.  That's how this team is supposed to play.  Baron Davis running and creating and passing for 22 points and 10 assists.  Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman rebounding and blocking shots.  Eric Gordon shooting the ball. 

The interesting thing is that this game flowed very much like the Clippers loss to Houston Friday night; the difference being that this time it was the Mavericks who fell behind and struggled to catch up, but could never get over the hump.  Dallas scored 8 straight (thanks to three straight Clipper turnovers) to tie the game at 79 with 8:31 to go after falling behind by 11 in the third.  Given the way the season has gone, there's no doubt that many of us were expecting the Clippers to collapse at that point and lose their seventh straight.  Instead, after an MDsr timeout, they reeled off 13 in a row.  And when Baron ran a pick and roll with Kaman, leapt in the air at the free throw line and threw a no look bullet to Camby as his defender rotated to Chris, the Clippers went up 14 with 3 minutes to go and the game was over.

It must be pointed out that ClipperSteve was totally wrong about the matchups.  I predicted that Kaman would guard Nowitzki and that Mobley would spend significant time on him as well.  Instead it was Camby who drew the big Deutscher, and Paul Davis defended him when Camby was out.  Camby and Davis worked hard, but Dirk still went for 33.  Fortunately for the Clippers, with Josh Howard not available, he didn't have a lot of help.  Jason Terry missed his first 11 shots and Jason Kidd finished with 7 points.  Gerald Green with 13 and Jerry Stackhouse with 10 were the only other Mavs in double figures.

The Clippers by contrast were a model of balance.  Six players scored in double figures led by Baron's 22 and Al Thornton's 17.  Had Thornton not been limited to 21 minutes because of foul trouble he might have gone for a lot more - he was 6 for 7 and Green clearly could not guard him.  

But I think the story of this game is Eric Gordon.  When he played 17 minutes against the Rockets on Friday, I thought it was a good sign, but I also guessed that it was an anomaly and probably not indicative of more minutes to come.  Well, it looks like I was wrong about that one as well.  He played almost 30 minutes and scored a career high 11 points, including 3 for 4 on three pointers.  He also had three steals (the box score shows two but Ralph and Mike and I remember three) and two assists.  The fact that the guy has been playing really solid defense (he defended Kidd for much of his court time in this game) is definitely one of the factors in earning MDsr's trust.  At this rate, he may be starting by January.

Some more thoughts on the first win of the season:

  • Against the Lakers on Wednesday, Baron tried throwing a lob to Kaman and the ball went into the basket.  Friday against Houston, they actually connected on a lob, which Kaman dropped gently into the hoop, as if he wasn't really sure what to do with the ball in that situation.  When Kaman raced ahead of Erick Dampier on the secondary break today, Baron found him and Chris actually dunked the ball.  Imagine that.
  • On a middle pick and roll in the first half, Kaman made a tough catch in traffic, kept the ball high, finished the play and went to the line for the and one.  These two plays are significant in that they indicate a growing chemistry between Baron and Kaman.  Chris has never had much chance to run in his career, nor has he played much pick and roll - but he has the skills to do both. 
  • Paul Davis played very well as the first big off the bench in the absence of Tim Thomas.  He finished with 10 points, and was plus 11 in 18 minutes of playing time.  I've always liked his passing, but I had no idea he was capable of the play he made early in the fourth quarter.  Facing a baseline double team, he dribbled toward the corner, wheeled and threw a bullet to an unguarded Camby under the basket for the dunk.  Davis didn't know what he was going to do with the ball when he left his feet... but he knew there were two guys chasing him, and that somebody was open.  It was a truly great pass, because he saw the defender rotating to cover the player on the wing, and he actually threw behind him to Camby at the last second.  (By the way, this is one of my announcer pet peeves - how many times have you heard a play-by-play guy say "You should never jump in the air to make a pass" or "He got caught in the air, and any High School coach will tell you not to jump in the air without knowing what you're going to do with the ball."  But when someone jumps in the air and actually finds a guy, they rave about what a great pass it was.)
  • For the first time in three games, Jason Hart got the call to replace Baron Davis in the first half.  Unfortunately, he proceeded to throw two passes away in his brief appearance, and it was once again Mike Taylor getting the backup point guard minutes in the second half.  Seriously, if Jason Hart is going to turn the ball over, then there's really no reason at all to play him in front of Taylor.
  • It's a little mean-spirited, but it's very positive nonetheless watching the Clippers play well without relying heavily on Cat Mobley and/or Tim Thomas.  Those two guys represent about $16M in expiring contracts in the summer of 2010 and clearly don't figure into the team's long term plans.  I'm perfectly happy to have them play well and contribute this season, but I'm even happier to see that Eric Gordon is going to be the starter sooner rather than later, and that Al Thornton is playing consistently well as the starter at the three. 
  • I realize that Howard was out and that he's an important player to them, but Dallas really looked bad in this game.  Other than Kidd finding opportunities for his teammates in early offense and isolations for Nowitzki, they really struggled to score.  Maybe they're still adjusting to Rick Carlisle, but they could definitely be in trouble as far as making the playoffs this season.  The strange thing is that for the entirety of the Cuban era, they've always had big time players, even coming off the bench.  But this summer they filled out the roster with a bunch of cast offs - Gerald Green (who is clearly a major talent, but you have to worry given that three different teams including Minnesota have given up on him), James Singleton, Shawne Williams....  Dallas looks vulnerable this year, and they'll be even worse in the not too distant future.

It's only one victory, and 1-6 is still a pretty dismal record.  But there were just so many good things that happened, it's very encouraging.  The Clippers shot season highs from the field (49%), from the three point arc (9 for 20, 45%) and from the line (78%).  They took as many free throws as the Mavericks.  They scored over 100 points for the first time.  As we've said many times, the Clippers have essentially been going through their pre-season in the first couple of weeks of the regular season.  Having to go through that process against some of the best teams in the league was unfortunate, but at least they'll only see the Lakers two more times. 

Now let's start a winning streak Wednesday.