I've had a chance to re-watch some things on the TiVo today as well as to dissect the game flow a little. And it's all pretty remarkable.
Watching at the Clippers Viewing Party, we were all so excited to see him on the court that I didn't really realize how rusty he looked in the first half. His first shot was flat and short. His next touch, he traveled (although Josh Powell was called for a 3 second violation before the travel, so EB didn't get the turnover). He threw a pass behind Thornton. He had a pass go through his hands. He got run over by Johan Petro. He missed a put back. It was all to be expected with 11.5 months between NBA games, but he was not sharp.
In addition to the rust, there's this to consider. At one point right at the end of the first quarter, Elton was on the floor with FOUR GUYS HE'D NEVER PLAYED BASKETBALL WITH BEFORE. In fact, of the Clippers in uniform last night, only Maggette and Ross were with the team before this season. So not only was Elton adjusting to playing NBA basketball, he was also adjusting to an entirely different set of teammates. (It should also be noted that, playing with the second unit, he also spent a lot of time on the court with some guys like Fazekas and Williams and Smush who weren't in the league a month ago.)
So an adjustment period was to be expected. Adjusting to game speed, adjusting to new teammates. It would be far too much to ask for Elton to make more than a psychological impact in those circumstances.
The adjustment period lasted about 15 minutes. Through three quarters, Elton had played 14:40. He was 3 for 8 with a couple of turnovers and a cumulative -8 for the game.
In the fourth quarter, still playing with entirely new teammates of course, he was the impact player the Clippers have been missing. The team of Dickau, Parker, Thornton, Brand and Fazekas got the bulk of the fourth quarter minutes. That's Elton Brand (in his first game back from Achilles surgery), a rookie, and three guys who have been waived this season. And they destroyed the Sonics, outscoring them by 19 in the quarter. Not that the Sonics are any good of course, but why would anyone expect that Clippers' lineup to be any good? Elton Brand is back, that's why.
The timing that seemed off in the first half was suddenly, magically, spot on. Sure, he shot 4 for 7 and made all 5 of his free throws for 13 points in the quarter. But perhaps the most remarkable play given the circumstances was when he blocked Jeff Green's layup with 9 minutes to go. We've heard Elton and MDsr talk about it a lot. Getting your timing back is the hardest part of returning from a layoff. And shot blocking is all about timing. He went after a few in the first half and whiffed. But by the second half, he was seemingly completely caught up, as illustrated by that blocked shot.
We'll have to see how the Achilles responds today. I always assumed that the reason the team kept talking about Thursday instead of Wednesday (what difference could one more day possibly make? and if practice time has been the limiting factor, then what's the point in waiting if there's not going to be a practice between back-to-backs?) was that they didn't want to have him play back-to-back right at the beginning of his comeback. And indeed they may not - they may decide to rest him tonight, regardless of how he feels. It's pretty clear that Elton wants to play. He far exceeded his target of first game minutes last night. So if he has any say in the matter, he'll be out there tonight.
I'll have more to say about the impact of Elton Brand on this team in a later post. It's a big subject.