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Clippers 113 - Memphis 110 - It Was a Struggle, but We'll Take It

After winning easily in Oakland last night, the Clippers had a flat start in their return home against the Grizzlies tonight.  They fell behind 10-2, and seemingly played catch up the rest of the night. 

Despite their record and reputation, the Grizzlies are a talented bunch, particularly their starters.  Mike Conley is not a great shooter, but he is incredibly quick, and creates chances for his team on dribble penetration.  The rest of the starting unit, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, is as talented an offensive collection as there is in the league.  Mayo, Gay and Randolph are all capable of hanging 30 or even 40 on a team any night, and Gasol is turning into a top center.  They can score the ball. 

Their problem is that they don't do such a good job stopping the other team, as the final score in the Clippers 113-110 win would indicate. 

For most of the game, it seemed that Rudy Gay would single-handedly carry the Grizz to the win.  He was, in a word, unstoppable in the first half, scoring 21.  His 10 fourth quarter points included a bunch of free throws, and it seemed he was headed to a new career-high (his prior high of 35 came against, you guessed it, the Clippers).  Gay has all the tools of a scorer - jaw-dropping athleticism, a terrific jump shot, the ability to put the ball on the floor, and the ability to simply make shots.  Many of his points came against solid, if not great, Clipper defense. 

Final - 11.7.2009 1 2 3 4 Total
Memphis Grizzlies 29 31 22 28 110
Los Angeles Clippers 23 32 27 31 113

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The Clippers dug holes and climbed out of them all night long.  Their largest deficit was 11, early in the game at 17-6.  They took a one point lead in the second quarter - and then fell behind by nine.  They took another one point lead in the third - and immediately gave it back and fell down five.  They climbed back even at the end of the third and it looked like they would finally take control of the game.  But their lax defense allowed Memphis to start the fourth quarter 8 for 10 and regain the lead again. 

When Rasual Butler sank a three pointer with 3:13 left in the game to give the Clippers a 105-101 lead, it was LA's largest lead of the game.  They never relinquished it, though they did try by missing four of the final eight free throws.

Some quick thoughts before I head home:

Eric Gordon had four first half shots, and five in the first five minutes of the second half.  I asked coach after the game if they were making a concerted effort to get him shots and he said absolutely.  It's not in Gordon's nature to demand the ball, and in sets with multiple options, MDsr says they sometimes forget about EJ.  So he called some plays specifically for EJ to get him going.  EJ finished the game 15 points on 12 shots, still very efficient if not his best.  He also had 6 assists, which I believe ties his career high.

Craig Smith was the MVP for the Clippers.  He scored 18 points on 8 for 11 shooting, including a three and another long jumper.  He also played solid fourth quarter defense, taking a charge and also coming up with two steals.  I liked that acquistion at the time, and I like it even better now.  I assumed that Smith's defense would be a liability, but it has not been the case so far this season.

Chris Kaman continues to dazzle.  He scored 26, one off his career-high set last week, extending his active steak of 20+ games to 6.  That's 6 times in the first 7 games of the season he's been over 20.  That just wasn't in the realm of possibility going into the season.  He also had 9 rebounds and 4 assists, and limited his miscues to 2 turnovers.  The key Butler three came on a Kaman pass out of the double team, where Chris was patient and made the right pass at the right time. 

Baron Davis is looking more and more like the guy we thought we'd see.  Although he was limited to 27 minutes by foul trouble, he was productive during that time, with 15 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds.  But it's just the way he moves on the floor, the way he holds his body, his demeanor - he's a different player this season than last.

Finally, it's pretty astounding how quickly Al Thornton has gone from being the starter to getting 16 minutes off the bench.  Rasual Butler played 39 minutes and Eric Gordon played 41 - guess, what?  That's leaves 16 minutes for another wing.  Now, with Rudy Gay going off, I think MDsr felt like Butler was his best chance at slowing down Gay.  But I have to say, while I knew Butler would be the starter, I didn't foresee this kind of minutes distribution, regardless of the matchups.

The Clippers have now won three straight, and it feels like it's been a long time since that happened (anyone want to look that up?)  But those three victories have come against teams that have won three games themselves - total.  So while it's good that they are getting the wins they're supposed to, it must be remembered that indeed they are supposed to win these games.  Monday versus New Orleans will be a better test.