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Clippers 97 - Washington 95 - Another Ugly Win

There's an old cliche about NBA basketball, perhaps less true today than it was a few years ago: "don't bother watching the first three quarters, just watch the end when they start playing."  It goes without saying that for die hard fanatics like the Citizens of Clips Nation, that's probably not going to happen - we tend to watch every excruciating moment.  Nonetheless, for nine consecutive games the adage has held true.  For the last nine Clipper games, the team that has scored more points in the final quarter has won the game.  And not only that, for four of the five Clipper wins in that stretch, the Clippers entered the final period behind and used a big fourth quarter to win the game. That's what happened tonight as the Clippers beat the Wizards 97-95.

This one wasn't quite like the Memphis game - the big run didn't come right at the end.  The Clippers actually used two different runs - 16 to 2 over the final five minutes of the third period and 21-6 in the middle of the fourth to turn a 16 point deficit into an 8 point cushion with less than 3 minutes to go.  They made it interesting down the stretch, but held on for the victory.

Why the Clippers dug a 16 point hole in the first place is quite another story.  I don't consider myself a Wizards expert after watching them in one full game and bits and pieces of others, but in this game at least, their problem is pretty obvious - they have three players, while NBA rules allow you to have five.  OK, I'll throw Brendan Haywood into the mix with Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, but every single other player on the Wizards absolutely killed them tonight.  Now, throw in the fact that of their big guns, only Jamison was particularly good (specifically, he was great) and this really should have been a relatively easy win for the Clippers.

But almost nothing is easy for the Clippers - ever - and this game was no exception.  Just when it felt like the Clippers should be pulling away in the second quarter, the lid on the basket sealed shut.  What's particularly weird is that they must have moved that lid from one basket to the other at half time, because the third quarter started the way the second quarter ended.  Over about a five minute stretch spanning the intermission, the Wizards outscored the Clippers 20-2 to take a 12 point lead. 

All NBA teams go through droughts.  All NBA teams look bad one minute and good the next.  But no one does drought like the Clippers.  They've got it down to a science. 

The Wizards lost their fifth straight close game, and must surely be getting tired of this.  The script was reversed somewhat this time - Saturday against the Pacers, it was the Wizards who had the 4 point lead with 16 seconds left only to give up a three, miss some free throws, and lose by one.  Tonight, the Clippers led by 4 with 16 seconds left, gave up a three and missed a free throw, giving the Wizards a chance to tie or win in the final seconds.  But Earl Boykins lost the ball and the Wizards had their hearts broken again.

There were some good things, and a lot of bad things, happening for the Clippers in this game:

  • Eric Gordon was very, very good.  He was as aggressive offensively as he's been this season, and was making a variety of shots.  He finished with 29, tying his season high, and only used 15 shots to get there. 
  • Chris Kaman had his first good shooting night in a while, scoring 23 on 11 for 19 shooting.  Unfortunately, his hot hand did not carry over to unguarded attempts, as he went 1 for 6 from the line - another reason the door was cracked open for the Wizards at the end.
  • Rasual Butler was a positive factor, which is a major bonus given that it hasn't happened much.  Sool finished with 15 points on 6 for 13 shooting, and he made two threes, including a huge one to give the Clippers a 4 point lead with 4 minutes left.  Kevin was talking about the fivesome of Kaman-Camby-Butler-Gordon-Baron earlier this week, and we got a healthy dose of it tonight as Al Thornton battled foul trouble all night. 

On the negative side of the ledger:

  • The bench is becoming more and more of a problem.  Outside of Butler and maybe the little used Brian Skinner, no one played well.  What's more, MDsr is clearly losing confidence in them.  Craig Smith played less than 5 minutes tonight, and Sebastian Telfair was around 9.  This leaves Baron (39), Camby (39) and Kaman (40) playing huge minutes.  But maybe the vitamin D milk is kicking in, as Kaman was actually at his best in the fourth when he scored 11 ofhis 23 points.
  • How much has MDsr lost confidence in Telfair?  Well, Baron Davis didn't make a field goal in the first half, and finished the game 2 for 14.  He also had 5 turnovers.  And yet MDsr chose to play him 39 minutes while Bassy played 9.  And you know what?  It was the right decision.  Baron made things happen, and dished out a season high 12 assists.  But he wasn't sharp, and it would have been nice to have a viable alternative. 
  • In addition to Baron's first half ohfer, Marcus Camby and Al Thornton also missed all their first half shots.  That's three fifiths of the Clippers starting lineup who did not make a single basket in the first half, and they didn't fare much better in the second.  This was not a pretty game.
  • The Clippers committed 20 turnovers, and many of them were particularly ugly, throwing the ball away and such.  Fortunately for the Clippers, the Wizards matched the turnovers.  But LA has to do a better job taking care of the ball.  They're not a good enough team to overcome 20 turnovers.
  • Free throw shooting.  The Clippers were 21 for 31 on the game,includnig a keey miss by Gordon in the final seconds.  This game was dangerously close to become like the Phoenix game - play well enough to win, but don't win because of a bunch of missed FTs.

At any rate, put it in the 'ugly win' column (which counts the same as the win column in the paper).  The Clippers finished the current home stand a disappointing 3-3, and start a six game road trip in Minnesota on Wednesday.  With the Wolves, Knicks and Sixers coming up next, the Clippers have a chance to get their record back to .500 over the next week or so.  But they'll have to play better than they did tonight, because even against 'bad' teams, wins don't come as easily on the road.