|Final - 2.23.2009
|Golden State Warriors
|Los Angeles Clippers
So what do you think it was? Was it T.J. Simers calling him out, accusing him of dogging it, in a column in the LA Times? Was it playing against his old team? Was it having Zach Randolph and Marcus Camby back on the court with him? Whatever it was, in the 57th game of the season, Baron Davis actually looked like the guy the Clippers thought they were signing. I mean, he's had some OK games this season. He's hit a couple of big shots. But for the most part, Baron has been at best a contributor, but never really the engine moving the team forward. Tonight, for this one game at least, that's who he was.
In fact, after he propelled the team to a 17 point lead late in the third quarter, the Clippers quickly give up 10 straight when he went to the bench for a rest. How many times this season have you thought, "Oh boy, we have to get Baron back in there"? Not many times.
Baron made several moves tonight that were reminiscent of the guy who led the Warriors into the playoffs two seasons ago. He was crossing people over, getting to the rim, and finishing plays. He still doesn't have the elevation he had before - and when he was asked about the Simers column, he referenced nagging injuries that have kept him from being his best this season. But he was plenty good tonight, even without the elevation. If he is still dealing with physical issues, and still has more room for improvement, that would be very good news. He finished the game with 25 points on 9 for 20 shooting and four three pointers. He also pitched in with 9 rebounds and 10 assists, coming within a single rebound of his first triple double as a Clipper. He still hasn't shot over 50% this season, but when you factor in the four threes tonight, his effective field goal percentage was 55% - I'll take that.
The Clippers got 79 points from Randolph (27), Gordon (27) and Baron (25). Randolph was far from sharp - he made only a single jump shot from outside of the paint - and he probably would have had 40 against the Warriors had he really been on his game. The were defending him with Maggette for a large portion of the fourth quarter. Are they kidding? But even a less than sharp Zach Randolph is a major force on offense, and as we've seen frequently this season, the Clippers offense suddenly looks coherent with Zach in the game. The point becomes a little lost given how infrequently the team has been healthy - after all, who cares how they might play, if it never actually happens? - but 10 of the Clippers 14 wins this season have come with Zach Randolph in the starting lineup. That's pretty tough to ignore.
Gordon started off terribly - he was one for his first eight, and he also had several turnovers in the first quarter. When he was struggling early, I made a bold prediction on the game thread - I said he'd score 20. And after starting 1 for 8, he made his next 8 in a row, including a career high 6 threes. When the Warriors made a run to cut the lead to three in the fourth quarter, it was Gordon who nailed back to back threes to stretch the lead back out to 9. He finished with 27 points on 17 shots. He's two things that rookies almost never are: consistent and efficient. And he's only 20. If he improves as 20 year olds usually do, he's going to be very, very good. Actually, he's already very, very good. So I guess the next stop is great.
The truth is, Randolph, Gordon and Baron (this Baron, not that other Baron) should be able to carry the scoring load almost every night for the team. Whatever they get then from the likes of Al Thornton and Chris Kaman and others is just gravy.
Of course, neither of those guys were playing tonight. Facing the Warriors, and having some ongoing personnel issues (no Thornton, no Kaman, Camby on limited minutes due to his ear infection), MDsr decided to play small ball to match up with the Warriors. He started Mardy Collins and Fred Jones as the forwards, Zach as the center. I usually hate this sort of move. By changing your lineup to try to address your opponent's lineup, you're playing into their hands. And indeed, midway through the first period it looked like a disaster. The Dubs broke off a 19-2 run to take a 14 point lead. But Baron and Marcus Camby brought the team back at the end of the quarter, and Camby's three pointer as time expired tied the game.
The rest of the way, the small ball lineup worked pretty well. Fred Jones is a very good player, and he had a terrific game tonight. He had a couple of dunks in the third that illustrated why he's a former NBA Slam Dunk contest winner. And Mardy Collins did a good job as well. So, no I don't really like the strategy of trying to match up with the Warriors and play their game, but it's hard to argue with the results tonight.
One thing that was very positive tonight was the team rebounding. Playing against the crazy Warriors, there just aren't a lot of bigs on the floor. That means more rebounds for everybody, and the Clippers did a good job of tracking them down. Baron had the aforementioned 9 boards, EJ had 7, Collins and Jones 6 each - it all added up to 47 - 39 rebounding edge for LA, despite that fact that Camby had only 6 in his limited minutes.
It's a busy week for the team. They've got three more games before Saturday, having just played back to back games Sunday and Monday. Wednesday against the Celtics is going to be difficult, even without Kevin Garnett. But there are several very winnable games in the next couple of weeks. If the team has any intention of putting together a season-finishing run to convince people that they can be a competitive team when healthy, now would seem to be the time. And maybe Baron Davis can prove he's not dogging it, even against a team other than the Warriors.