First of all, let's just remember never to say "The injury situation can't get any worse." Because it can always get worse. If you send five guys out onto the court, even if they aren't five guys you ever thought would be there, if one or two more of them get hurt, then guess what? It's worse.
So rather than starting this game with Marcus Camby as we had hoped the Clippers might, instead they started WITHOUT Brian Skinner, out with the flu. Then 4 minutes into the game, Mardy Collins strained a calf muscle and did not return. As it happens, I myself have missed a couple of my beloved basketball nights recently with a strained calf - let's hope Mardy's 20 something body mends more quickly than my 40 something one because the Clippers can use him right now.
At any rate, we've said for weeks with this injury-depleted roster that Eric Gordon and Al Thornton would have to carry the scoring load. The Prime Ticket broadcast took the point to extremes, hyping the 'Frosh-Soph' combos on each team, pointing out the Durant+Westbrook is the highest scoring such combo in the league, while Thornton+Gordon is second. At any rate, if anyone was aware of the Clippers' reliance on those two to score going into the game, they figured it out pretty quickly.
In the first half Thornton (21) and Gordon (16) scored 37 of the Clippers 50 points (74%). No one else on the team had more than 3. By the end, they had accounted for 74 of the Clippers 107 - a mere 70% of the offense. Gordon finished the game with a career high and Clipper rookie record 41. Thornton (who held the previous record of 39 along with Tom Chambers) put up a season-high 34.
If Gordon and Thornton each had season best games, you might think the Clippers should have a relatively easy time with the team with the worst record in the NBA (still, thank FSM). But there are a few other factors here. One, Kevin Durant is very, very good, and scored 46 himself. Two, Oklahoma City has been playing better, having won 4 of 6. Three, and most important, the casual NBA fan has literally never heard of the Clippers other key contributors in this game.
For most of the fourth quarter, Fred Jones (out of the NBA for the first two months of the season), Steve Novak (455 total minutes played in his first two seasons in the NBA) Cheikh Samb (65 minutes of NBA experience prior to this game) joined Thornton and Gordon on the floor. It's hard to imagine that lineup could be anybody, no matter how well Thornton and Gordon had it going. But the did.
Partly because no one else from the Thunder showed up to help Durant. Durant finished with his 46 - and the next highest Thunder player was Jeff Green with 14. Now, I understand that Scott Brooks was calling Durant's number almost every time down the floor, but with the lineup the Clippers had on the floor down the stretch, Steve Novak was defending Jeff Green. I keep hearing people talk about how great Green is - but where was he tonight? Let's face it, Novak's not on the floor for his defense. Green needed to beast Novak in the fourth, and he simply didn't. (Thanks in part to the CS reverse mojo - you're welcome Citizens.)
In fact, back to the Prime Ticket promos at the beginning of the game, if OKC's future is bright because of their three young starters from the last two drafts, tonight it seemed like Kevin Durant and a couple of draft day misses. Westbrook finished with 11 points on 12 shots, 2 assists and 3 turnovers in his LA homecoming. And if he's supposed to be a great defender, then Eric Gordon must be even better than we thought.
Gordon had it going, to put it mildly. He scored his 41 on a mere 19 shots, finishing 12 for 19, 5 for 7 from 3 point distance, 12 for 14 from the line - and he also had 4 assists for good measure. When his three is falling like that, I'm not sure what a defender is supposed to do against the guy. He doesn't need a lot of room to get off the three, and his range extends several steps beyond the arc. But he's also a monster driving to the basket, so if you crowd him on the perimeter or close out too fast, he's headed to the rim for an old-fashioned and-one three point play. Interestingly, although he made 5 threes, most of the sets the Clippers ran for him were curls to get him the ball near the corner of the key. And it was working all night. The defender would trail around the screen, and once EJ got him on his hip, he's just so strong and so good with the ball, he kept him there, out of position, until the ball was in the basket.
You almost have to feel a little sorry for Al Thornton. He goes for a season-high 34, his first 30+ game of the season, and everyone is going to be talking about the rookie. The offense for Al was great - his jumper was falling from the very start, and that just makes life so much easier. But I was also impressed with Al's defense tonight. He had three blocked shots in the game, including one at the end of the first half where he ended up on Westbrook on the switch, and the rookie threw everything he had at Al, but Al just kept recovering and stayed close enough to block the shot at the halftime buzzer. Sure, Durant torched Thornton in the fourth quarter - but frankly, he torched the other defenders who drew the assignment a lot worse. Al defended him better than anyone else, and certainly was working hard.
It was nice just to win a game, but it was especially nice to win a close one. I would have liked to have seen a few more defensive stops down the stretch, but Durant was pretty determined to score (and the refs, it must be said, were pretty determined to help him - he shot a ridiculous 26 free throws).
They may not have gotten the stops, but they did get some big hoops. The Clippers built the lead up to 8 points in the fourh, but Durant cut it to 3 with a couple more free throws with 99 seconds left. On the Clippers next possession, Novak drained a corner three to build the lead back up to 6. I think it's safe to say that Steve Novak has not logged a whole lot of final two minute possessions in the NBA - this was a big shot. Unfortunately, Durant answered with a three of his own (on a play where Al Thornton had a complete brain fart and choose to lay off Durant with the Clippers up 6 with just over a minute left - and that was with MDsr screaming at him to get up on the guy), forcing the Clippers to score again. This time, it was Gordon taking the ball straight to the cup, and just willing it in, over Nick Collison and despite being bumped. It was a huge score, and it built the lead back to 5 which proved to be enough.
Novak had another good game, with 10 points on 4 for 8 shooting. Fred Jones had his best game in awhile, scoring 12 and hitting two big three pointers. In fact, the three-ball was huge for the Clippers tonight - they made 11 of them on 19 tries. Cheiky Samb looks intriguing, I'll say that for him. He played 23 minutes tonight - a career high, as you might imagine - and blocked 3 shots and grabbed 8 rebounds in those minutes. He's way too weak around the basket right now, and he simply may not have the frame to ever change that. He I liked his activity on both ends. They say he can make the 18 footer - although he didn't show that tonight; he was 1 for 7.
The bad news (in addition to all the usual injury stuff, that is) is that DeAndre Jordan is not quite ready for the Hall of Fame, and Ricky Davis has completely forgotten how to shoot. After two straight solid games as a starter, DeAndre ended up with more fouls (5) than points (3) in this one. As fo Ricky, it's got to be mostly mental at this point. He just can't shoot anymore. He was 0 for 6, and on one three point attempt, he looked like someone who learned to shoot by reading a book. He's really thinking out there (not in a good way) and his shot is just not natural to him right. But let's give Ricky (and MDsr) for making the best of the situation. For most of the third quarter, MDsr had Ricky running the point. Fred Jones was shooting well, so Ricky became the distributor, and he had 11 assists. It was a very shrewd in game adjustment, and really paid off as it allowed the Clippers to squeeze some quality minutes out of Ricky on a night where they needed all of their remaining healthy bodies to contribute.
Overall, I'd call it a welcome if unlikely win. Of the Clippers 10 wins, three have now come courtesy of the Thunder. It keeps the Clippers out of the cellar, at least for a few days more. And hopefully soon the Clippers players will begin re-joining the team. At which pontit would be a surprise when they beat teams like the Thunder.