When the Clippers watched a 15-2 third quarter Thunder run turn a twelve point lead into a one point deficit, I was certain that the Clippers would lose this game and lose badly. If you're a Clipper fan and you've watched the last three games, you felt the same way. If you say you didn't, either you haven't been paying attention, or you're a liar.
Instead, the Clippers kept it close, and then actually won the fourth quarter, a very rare occurrence for this team. After three, the Thunder had a one point lead 76-75. But a 25-16 final frame gave the Clippers their second road win of the season and snapped their ugly three game losing streak, 101-93.
The heroes of the game were Chris Kaman and Baron Davis, as they almost have to be until Eric Gordon gets back in the lineup. In the final seven minutes of the game, Kaman and Baron combined to score 13 of the Clippers final 18 points. Baron also came up with a key steal, a key rebound, and assisted on one of Kaman's buckets. Kaman finished the game with 25, and Baron finished with 24.
The Clippers fourth quarter defense was excellent. They held the Thunder to 16 points, and none of them were easy. In fact, several of their scores seemed unlikely in the extreme, contested jump shots late in the shot clock. For awhile it made me think that it was going to be their game, as they seemed to come up with crucial points on broken plays. But in the end, the Clippers got the crucial stops they needed. And unlike in other recent fourth quarters, the Clippers were able to go to their horses without becoming two predictable. Whereas "Iso Kaman on the block" is the play that everyone expects, a Baron-Kaman high pick and roll produced perhaps the most important basket of the game, a layup for Kaman. It's a bonus to get an easy hoop down the stretch of a close game. Moments later, the same pick and roll yielded an open three for Baron that gave the Clippers a four point lead with under a minute left and essentially won the game.
|Final - 11.15.2009||1||2||3||4||Total|
|Los Angeles Clippers||26||23||26||26||101|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||23||18||35||17||93|
For a change, it was nice to see a team other than the Clippers seemingly forget what had been good to them. Kevin Durant scored 33 points through the first three quarters, and had 38 with well over 8 minutes left to play. But he scored only two more points down the stretch, and took only three more shots, one of those a meaningless three point attempt after the game was decided. Should we credit the defense of the much-maligned Al Thornton? Should we blame the Thunder for simply forgetting about their go to scorer (that seems unlikely)? Or did Durant, who played over 44 minutes in the game and never came out in the second half, this after playing 42 minutes in San Antonio the night before, simply wear down?
Speaking of Thornton, he scored a season high 20 in addition to his fourth quarter defense on Durant. (He did not draw the assignment all game, as the Clippers tag-teamed Durant with Rasual Butler and Kareem Rush taking turns as well.) During one stretch early in the second quarter, with a unit of Telfair, Rush, Thornton, Smith and Jordan on the floor, Al scored seven consecutive points, showing a glimpse of what we thought could be with him as the top scoring threat on the second unit. Of course the injury to Gordon has forced him back into the starting lineup where he may be regaining his mojo. And the play of Rasual Butler may keep him there.
Butler has been disappointing to say the least, although it's possible that our expectations were too high. To his credit, MDsr sees what we see and is actively looking for alternatives. Tonight he went to Kareem Rush, who responded in a big way. He played good defense, taking a charge from Durant shortly after checking into the game, and he also scored his first points as a Clipper, finishing with 9 for the game. His efforts were rewarded with 29 minutes of court time, more than Butler, including all of the crucial fourth quarter minutes.
It's obvious that when you follow one particular team, your impression of the rest of the league is skewed by the way teams perform against your team. And in the case of the Thunder, it's obvious from their performances against the Clippers that Kevin Durant is a great player, but I just don't get it when people rave about their other young 'stars'. Although Russell Westbrook bounced back some in the second half, and had a seemingly impressive statistical line by the end (17 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists), I don't see how he's helping them win games. Once again he had a miserable shooting night at 5 for 17, and it's pretty clear that he has frequent miserable shooting nights simply because he's a miserable shooter. I'm actually shocked when his jump shot goes in. Westbrook must play better against the rest of the league, because he has never been good against the Clippers. Similarly Jeff Green is an enigma to me. When analysts talk about the young, talented OKC core, Green is always prominently featured. But seriously, what does he do? The dude is a power forward shooting 44% for his career, 44% on the season. Can you afford to have a power forward shooting 44%? He averages 6 rebounds in 36 minutes. Can you afford to have a power forward averaging 6 rebounds? I look at his numbers and I am underwhelmed. I watch him play against the Clippers, and it only reinforces the underwhelminessitude. Isn't Nick Collison actually better - I mean, a lot better - than this guy?
Back to the Clippers. It's great to get a win. With Chris Paul likely to miss Tuesday's game and the hapless Grizzlies after that, it could turn into a little streak. As disappointing as the season has been so far, the super soft schedule may allow the Clippers to climb back into relevance pretty quickly. I mean, at 4-7 they're ahead of New Orleans and only a half game behind Utah, and it's hard to imagine that Houston and Sacramento can overachieve all season. Defense and continued strong play from Kaman and Baron Davis may be able to hold down the fort until Gordon and Griffin get back. If Thornton can find his mojo and guys like Rush continue to contribute, it will be a big plus.
A couple of random final thoughts:
- Coming into the season, Chris Kaman had six career games scoring 25 or more points. This season, he has done so in five of the Clippers first eleven games.
- With the Clippers holding a four point lead and 43 seconds on the clock, the Thunder brought the ball in bounds. Clearly the Clippers did not want to give up a three pointer in this situation. When Thabo Sefolosha drove to the basket, Marcus Camby left Jeff Green standing in the corner. Green happens to be one of the better three point shooters on the OKC roster, and MDsr is clearly seen on the telecast freaking out as Camby leaves him. It was a bonehead play. Kaman was already at the rim to challenge the shot, and the two doesn't hurt nearly as much as the three in that situation. This is one of the challenges of playing Camby at power forward in a league of 'stretch fours'. His instinct, his forte, his raison d'etre is weak side help and shot blocking. He doesn't want to stay home on a shooter behind the three point line. Even coming out of a time out where I'm certain the coach told him to stay home, he couldn't do it. The Clippers dodged a bullet when Green's wide open three didn't fall.
- Durant is a great scorer for many, many reasons, but two of them were clearly evident in this game. One, he's got about the softest touch around. Many of his shots bounced around the rim before falling tonight - he just gets the ball up there on the rim so softly that it seems to have no choice but to go in the basket. The second is that he's tenacious. On three separate occasions the Clippers blocked his shot at the rim... and each time, he got the ball back and scored. "Nose for the ball", "not to be denied"... pick your cliche. The guy is a scorer.