For long stretches of this game, the Clippers were not just better, but much, much better than the team with the fourth best record in the NBA. Unfortunately, there were two shorter stretches where they were atrociously bad, and that was enough to get them the L.
From the time Baron Davis made his first three point field goal of the ball game with 6:30 left in the first quarter, until he made his last three in the final seconds of the third quarter, the Clippers outscored the Magic 73-52. But they spotted Orlando a 14-2 lead to begin the game with an incredibly flat start, and then gave up a 22-2 run to begin the fourth. Surviving one such drought in a game is pretty hard - overcoming two of them is pretty much impossible.
This is a throwback to the first weeks of the season, where each and every game contained at least one monumental lapse. They usually occurred in the fourth quarter too, as a matter of fact. D.L. Moody said "Character is what you are in the dark." Well, an NBA team is what it does in the fourth quarter. And the Clippers have been bad - really, really bad - in fourth quarters this season. And when the Clippers have been melting down in the fourth, it's generally been Baron Davis at the core. Tonight he was 10 for 23 (3 for 5 on threes) through three periods - and 1 for 6 missing 3 triples in the fourth.
In his press conference after the game, MDsr was making thinly veiled references to the officiating. "I told my guys to take it at Howard - we did that - but we still didn't make it to the line - I guess Orlando played good defense.... " That sort of thing. And at first blush, the Magic's 30 to 13 FT advantage indeed looks suspicious. But upon closer inspection, you'll see that Dwight Howard shot 18 of Orlando's 30 freebies - leaving only 12 for the rest of the team. Could the Clippers have gotten a few more trips? Sure. But it seemed to me the officials were letting a lot of stuff go on both ends. The Clippers were forced to foul Howard at times (and were pretty happy to, considering he made only half of his attempts). And certainly rookie DeAndre Jordan got no benefit of the doubt from officials as he was called for four fouls in four minutes. Still, overall, the zebras just weren't much in the mood to blow the whistle tonight, for whatever reason. They really could have helped the team in the fourth with just a couple of calls during that horrendous start. But it didn't happen. In the final analysis, six different Clippers got one pair of free throws each. No one was sent to the line twice the entire game. (Baron took a third one for a technical foul.)
Credit the Clippers with working hard on the boards, which is what got them back in the game and kept them there. The outrebounded the Magic 51-43, despite Dwight Howard's 22 boards. (That's right, Howard had 22, and the rest of his team had 21. No wonder he's leading the league - there's not competition.) The Clippers grabbed 16 offensive rebounds to the Magic's 4. Of course, there were many more misses on the Clippers end, with the Clippers attempting 21 more field goals than the Magic, but only making 4 more. It's hard to believe that the Clippers were in this game, shooting 38.5% - and it's all due to the rebounding.
We said going in that three point shooting was going to be a key, and it was. When Orlando jumped out to their lead, they made their first two three pointers. They then missed their next 11 in the first half, as the Clippers turned a 15 point deficit into a 6 point half time lead. But after that 2 for 13 first half, the Magic made up for it with an 8 for 13 second half. After the Clippers had cut the lead back down to 2 in the final three minutes, they made two straight (sandwiched around a Thornton free throw) to stretch the lead back out to 7. The second of those threes was Hedo Turkoglu from fully three steps behind the arc with 2 minutes left in the game and 13 seconds on the shot clock. You know SVG was screaming 'NOOO.... nice shot' as he put that one up. Just a horrible shot - but sometimes bad shots go in.
[By the way, I'm really bad at my new game. I picked McCants for the Superstar for one game Saturday and he scored 2 points. Tonight I picked J.J. Redick, and he never got out of his warm ups. Poor J.J. He really wanted out of Orlando, they decided to keep him and implied he was going to get his chance this year - and now he's buried behind a rookie from Western Kentucky. He's got to be thinking "I'm a Blue Devil - what the hell am I doing playing behind a Hilltopper?" And that's with Pietrus hurt - he goes to fourth string when Pietrus is back. He'll be buried behind a frog and a Hilltopper.]
Maybe some late game collapses will turn up the heat on MDsr's seat. But don't count on it. He makes an obligatory appearance on Chris Sheridan's list of coaches in trouble at ESPN.com, but even Sheridan doesn't think it's going to happen - he set the odds at MDsr getting fired this season at 32-1.