As the game was nearing it's final conclusion, Ralph Lawler said "What looked like it was going to be an improbable loss turns into an improbable win." He's probably right. The Clippers came uncomfortably close to losing a game in which they had a big first half lead for the second consecutive night. How close? Try less than a tenth of a second close.
Andre Iguodala's jump shot at the buzzer was originally ruled the game winner. MDsr and several Clipper players headed to the locker room, and Milph were lamenting the heartbreaking loss, originally believing that the standard review of any buzzer-beater was a mere formality. As it happens, the refs ruled that the ball was still touching Iggy's fingers as time expired, nullifying the basket and sending the game into overtime. It seems like every season there are several of these "so close you can't even tell with a replay what the right call is" shots. This one was so close, that from some angles I think it was gone in time, and from other angles I think it was not.
I would say that the Clippers caught a huge break there, and of course they did. But don't lose sight of how lucky the shot was in the first place. As Iguodala was making his move, Eric Gordon knocked the ball free. The ball was loose with 2 seconds showing on the clock, so the idea that Iguodala was able to regain possession, turn and drain a long jumper in time was unlikely in the extreme.
I will say this about the NBA's replay review process - they don't get hung up in NFL-style "indisputable visual evidence" and "ruling on the field stands" crap. They make the call to the best of their ability based on the replay, end of story. How many times have you seen a call stand in the NFL, when you're pretty certain it should have been reversed? More to the point, a lot of NFL calls would be left unchanged, regardless of what was called on the field. The replays aren't always as conclusive as you want them to be, and the NFL's rule is when in doubt, don't change the call. But if you've already stopped the game, why not get the call right, regardless of what they said in real time? If they applied the NFL's standards in this game, the shot is good and Philly wins. Lucky for us, they don't do it that way in the NBA.
I'm not going to get into a lot about the tale of two halves tonight. Suffice it to say that, in this game, it seemed much more about the Sixers than about the Clippers, at least to me. I didn't think the Clippers looked like an offensive juggernaut in the first half - what I saw was terrible Philadelphia defense. One pump fake and a drive to the basket seemed to be all it took for the Clippers to get layups the entire first half. That wasn't there in the second half (nor of course should it have been there in the first). So yeah, a 60 point half followed by a 39 point half seems like a big problem - but it seemed to me that the 60 was the real outlier.
You could feel the lead slipping away during one segment in the third. Baron Davis thought he was fouled on one end, and as he was chirping at the ref, his man got into the lane and threw an alley-oop to Iguodala that energized the sparse crowd and the Sixers team. Baron compounded his mistake of not getting back on defense by picking up a technical foul. Then, when a Thornton dunk was taken away because of a shot clock violation, the Sixers made a rare three. Just like that, in two possessions and about 30 seconds, the Clippers 12 point lead was cut in half.
With Chris Kaman out of the game at the end of regulation after picking up his sixth foul, the Clippers went to Al Thornton on consecutive crucial possessions in the final minute. Going against a terrific defender in Iguodala, Thornton delivered two game tying buckets. I don't like the Clippers' tendency to go exclusively to isos in the final minutes of close games, but Thornton delivered tonight.
In addition to Thornton's final minute heroics, the Clippers got terrific games from several players. They had six players in double figures, and three 20-10 games - albeit three different combinations of 20 and 10. Baron Davis had 20 points and 13 assists - the third game in the last four he's had 12 or more; Chris Kaman had 24 points and 11 rebounds - his fourth consecutive 20 point game; and Marcus Camby had 11 points and a season-high 22 rebounds. Camby's now fourth in the NBA in rebuonding, and closing in on the guys ahead of him. He's also fourth in blocked shots. Rasual Butler and Eric Gordon also had solid games.
A few other random thoughts on this game:
- Who is Marreese Speights? Speights had a career high 28 points, and appears to be an absolute beast, particularly if he can really make those shots and it wasn't just a fluke. He's got size, athleticism and a terrific jump shot and appears to be on his way to real stardom. The amazing thing is that Philadelphia has some great young pieces like Speights and Thaddeus Young - but with the contracts and Brand and Dalembert and Iguodala around, they have no flexibility to shape the roster right now.
- Speights is 22, but he made a veteran move a couple of times. Facing the basket, if the defender has his hands out, twice he swept his arms through the defender to start his shot, drawing a two shot foul. In fact, the foul he drew on Kaman was his sixth, so that was a doubly important play. I say it's a veteran move, but it goes beyond that - there are very few players in the league who make that play consistently, one of them being Kobe Bryant. I don't like the play - given all the contact refs allow near the basket, I find it strange that they would award two free throws on what is essentially a gimmick move, since these 'shooters' aren't really shooting at all, but rather specifically hunting for a foul call. But as long as referees fall for it, it's a very effective technique. And I sure don't know any other 22 year olds who do it.
- Former Clipper Elton Brand looked good on offense. His mid range game was very much on tonight, especially in the third quarter. But he's physically not the same player he was. Three rebounds in 35 minutes is just not something that ever used to happen with him.
- The lane violation called on Al Thornton in the fourth quarter was flat wrong, and wasn't even particularly close to right. I'm always amazed when a ref decides to make a call you almost never see, and then they get it wrong. I mean, this guy went out of his way to get the call completely wrong. Obviously, that point could have proven pretty significant in a game that went into overtime.
- As if to taunt Clipper fans, the Sixers had two players in this game back from injury AHEAD of schedule. Speights suffered a partial tear of his MCL and was supposed to be out for six to eight weeks - he was back in less than five. Lou Williams got his jaw broken November 24th and was supposed to be out eight weeks. He played tonight after fewer than four weeks out. These guys were playing weeks after the season had started, had recoveries estimated to be about the same if not longer than Griffin's, and their back while Blake still sits. What the heck?
The road trip gets decidedly more difficult now as the Clippers head to Texas. First stop is Monday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, where they have never won. It's nice to get a close win, but as tough as this was, you can be pretty sure it will be a lot tougher on Monday.