Eleven days ago, the Clippers had three wins for the season. Now, they've got three wins in a row.
Obviously, they were supposed to win against the Thunder (the worst team in the NBA, and it's not really close). But give the Clippers credit for getting it done, despite some missteps. After building up a big lead right from the outset, the reserves had a really bad stretch in the second quarter that let the Thunder get back into it. A two point halftime lead for the Clippers was momentarily erased completely, as the Thunder took the lead a couple of times in the third quarter. But veteran Baron Davis got young Kevin Durant to bite on a pump fake that resulted in three free throws with 1.8 seconds left in the quarter. The Clippers parlayed that into a five point lead going into the final period and built on it from there (it got as high as 14 at one point), leaving little doubt about who would win the game down the stretch.
A few words about the reserves. To start the second quarter, the Clippers had a unit of Jason Hart, Eric Gordon, Steve Novak, Al Thornton and Paul Davis on the floor. When Eric Gordon picked up his second foul early in the quarter, he was replaced by Mardy Collins. No wonder they lost most of the lead. When Gordon left the game, the Clippers were ahead by 14. At that point the Thunder reserves started a 17-4 run to close the lead to one, and Thornton scored the 4. Clearly the Clippers bench is offensively challenged, at least for the time being with two of their seven legitimate scorers hurt. But having 4 bench players and Thornton on the floor together is just asking for trouble. Thornton can score, and he can even create his own shot - but he can only create for himself. With 4 non-scorers joining him on the floor, MDsr is daring the other team to put all of their defensive energy into stopping Al - that's all you have to do.
But what was particularly disappointing was the defense. I realize that defensive stops (which are not that tough against that Clippers unit) lead to run outs for the other team. But if you're a second string player on the Clippers, and your offensive contributions are limited at best, then you should NOT be allowing fast break dunks going the other way. If I'd been the coach at that point, I would have taken Hart and Collins and Davis and Novak and explained to them that I can get D-League players that will get back on defense. The Thunder had very little success in the half court all night - giving up 32 second quarter points on mostly fast break layups and dunks is just inexcusable.
I will point out that the bench guys redeemed themselves a little in the fourth quarter. Through three quarters, the Clippers had gotten zero points from the reserves. But they did contribute10 points down the stretch, allowing Baron to get a just a little rest. Unfortunately, 4 Clipper starters still wound up playing at least 38 minutes, which could really start to wear on them by the end of 4 cities in 5 days.
I was prepared to write about how the Clippers managed to get a win without Zach Randolph being unstoppable... and then I noticed in the box score that he still had 22 and 13 on 9 for 20 shooting. He's now scored at least 21 in all 9 games he's started for the team - and not coincidentally, the Clippers are 5-4 in those 9. Even though his shot was off tonight - he was 1 for 9 on jumpers - he still managed to get his points around the basket. And maybe it's just a honeymoon period, but he's a much better sharer than we were led to believe. It's worth noting that a couple of those scores from the second unit came courtesy of passes from Zach. Playing Hart and Collins with Randolph works much better than playing them with Thornton. Randolph can force the double, and then when someone is open he finds them (4 assists tonight). Al still has a long way to go in that area of his game (1 assist tonight).
Randolph was joined for game high scoring honors by Eric Gordon, who played maybe his best game as a pro tonight. He's had games where he scored more, but 22 points on 11 shots is great efficiency. He scored in a variety of ways. He made 3 of 6 three pointers, but he also got into the lane with regularity, and he converted 4 of 5 two point attempts. Add in the good defense he played on Russell Westbrook (and occasionally on Kevin Durant) and you have a really good all around performance by the rookie.
With Chris Kaman and Ricky Davis targeting a return after Christmas, the Clippers have four more games with this talented but thin unit - against four Eastern Conference teams that are struggling. It's difficult relying on your top five for almost all of your scoring. (And let's face it, we're really talking about four scorers, since Camby gets most of his points on put backs.) Maybe they can keep it rolling, knowing that help is on the way soon. They have to continue to play good defense, and hope the starters continue to produce (all five were in double figures for the third straight game).