The Clippers were 0-4 before tonight's game, and I was pretty scared about the team. Now that they've gotten their first win, 93-90 over the Timberwolves, I'm terrified.
If we can look at the losses and rationalize that at least they came against good teams, then we also have to look at this win and say that it came against a team whose best and essentially only good player is still recovering from a major knee injury.
Throughout the first quarter, as the Clippers were making 9 of their first 10 shots, they weren't putting any distance between themselves and the Wolves, because turnovers once again were giving the opponent lots of extra opportunities. So although the Clippers seemed to play well enough to control the game, they never really did. Neither Chris Kaman nor Eric Gordon missed in the first quarter - and yet LA trailed by 2 in the final minute of the period.
The real problem came in the third quarter, as indeed it did against Dallas on Saturday. After making 4 of their fist 7 shots in the period, LA proceeded to miss nine in a row, and 14 of 15 stretching into early in the fourth quarter. But I don't think we can hang this one on the coach. I've criticized MDsr plenty, but he can't go out there and make shots for people. Rasual Butler missed three layups during the lull, Gordon got several good looks at jump shots that he missed - in short, they were getting decent shots, they just weren't making any of them. Combined with the turnovers, they allowed the Timberwolves to erase all of a 13 point Clipper lead and to take the lead early in the fourth quarter. The turnovers were a little reminiscent of the Dallas third quarter - in particular, the play were Baron forced a lazy entry pass into a closely guarded Gordon on the wing at 9:20 was almost identical to a steal by Jason Terry at about the same point of Saturday's loss.
The good news for the team continues to be Chris Kaman. He entered the game averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds per game, and best both of those numbers by going to 25 and 11. It was his fourth consecutive game with 20 or more points - his previous career high was two in a row. Two seasons ago when he had his (first?) break out season, he was still just a 16 point per game scorer. He's at a different level offensively right now. It should be noted that he's not rebounding quite like he did that season, but playing next to Marcus Camby may have something to do with that. There are fewer rebounds for Kaman with Camby out there than there were with Tim Thomas as a sidekick. By the way, Kaman also had 2 blocked shots, and shot 10 for 15 from the floor, boosting his season shooting percentage to an even 60%.
MDsr made the move we've been expecting, inserting Rasual Butler into the starting small forward spot and bringing Al Thornton off the bench. Butler responded with a nightmare shooting performance, hitting just 3 of 15 shots. During a crucial possession in the final minutes and the Clippers up two, Butler missed a wide open three short, and after a Camby backtap on the offensive rebound, got an even better look at a three - and missed it short again. Fortunately, the Clippers again got the rebound, and after Kaman was fouled he made one of two to make it a three point lead. Butler needs to take Camby to dinner for those back taps, because he could well have been the goat of this game had Marcus not kept those rebounds alive.
Al Thornton didn't fare much better off the bench than he has as a starter. He was just 2 for 6, and he clearly lacks confidence right now. The Clippers thought they had two good choices at the small forward - but tonight Butler would have been lucky to be the lesser of two evils.
So it goes down in the books as a win, just as the first four games went down as losses. I suppose you could take the optimistic position that the Clippers were good enough to win despite missing 14 of 15 shots; you could call it a gutty win on an off shooting night. You could.
But the simple fact is, I'm more worried about this season than ever.