|Final - 2.28.2009
|Los Angeles Clippers
As Clipper losses go this season, this one wasn't so bad. I thought Charlotte played very well. And other than two bad stretches (an 11-2 Emeka Okafor run in the second quarter and an 18-5 run turnover fueled run in the third quarter), the Clippers played well. It's certainly disappointing to lose a 15 point lead against a team 11 games below .500. But let's face it - we've seen the Clippers play a lot worse and care a lot less.
And lest we forget, the Clippers were short-handed - severely - again. Kaman of course was out, which I mention only because Emeka Okafor led Charlotte with 28 points (one off his career high) and Kaman is clearly the best guy to defend him. Eric Gordon missed his second straight game with a bruised shoulder and his absence was definitely felt. And as seems to happen with the Clippers, a couple more injuries clustered around one position, as Fred Jones (sore back) and Mardy Collins (plantar fasciaitas), the most capable replacements for Gordon, both sat out as well. That left Ricky Davis and Alex Acker as the only bodies who can reasonably be considered two guards on the roster. And in case you were unaware, Ricky has been pretty much terrible this season (he was 1 for 5 in this game as the starter), and Acker has been with the team less than 2 weeks and had 84 minutes of NBA experience entering the game.
With Steve Novak still struggling to relocate his shot (he was 2 for 7 in this game and is now 12 for his last 44 three pointers), the Clippers were more or less forced to go with five guys down the stretch - Baron Davis and Mike Taylor at the guards, Al Thornton, Zach Randolph and Marcus Camby up front. Taylor played very well in this game, and the rest are obviously in the rotation regardless of the injury situation. But that was pretty much it for this game. The other 4 guys scored 15 points total and were 5 for 15, and that includes 2 for 3 from the surprisingly effective Acker.
Zach Randolph had a great game, and at the same time a frustrating game. He finished with 33 points on 12 for 21 shooting - that's great, right? Of his 9 misses, one was a 50 foot heave at the end of the third quarter. Of the other 8, I counted FIVE layups and tips - really easy shots. Zach is no Mr. Flippy - no, he doesn't often finish with the two handed stuff around the basket, but he makes his bunnies with great consistency. But for some reason, they just wouldn't go in for him in this game. One of the five misses was a quick recovery and block by Okafor - the others were completely on Zach. So that 33 on 12 for 21 shooting? Could just as easily have been - should have been, really - 41 on 16 for 21 shooting.
On the other end the defense was a problem - like how they gave up 34 points in the third quarter. But there were some indications that the Clippers were at least trying. They got a few key stops in the fourth, including a steal down three with 20 seconds left that gave them a chance to tie the game. But it was seemingly never enough. The Raja Bell jumper with 5:24 left in the game and Charlotte clinging to a 2 point lead is a perfect example. With the Clippers as close as they had been since midway through the third, they played 23 seconds of great defense and the Bobcats had nothing happening. With the clock winding down, Raja Bell wound up with the ball on the right baseline with Baron Davis all over him. Bell tried to take the baseline, Baron cut him off, Bell stepped back, Baron got up on him and contested the shot - and it went in anyway. The Clippers could not have defended that possession any better, and Bell ended up making a shot that frankly is not in his repertoire - Raja Bell is not a create his own shot late in the shot clock kind of guy.
There were also egregious lapses in the fourth. Like the possession where Radmanovic drained a three in front of MDsr as the coach was screaming at Steve Novak to get up on Vlad. Or the one where Charlotte for some unknown reason called DeSagana Diop's number and then Novak failed to box out on Bell, who tipped in the inevitable miss. Or the one where the Clippers played 23 seconds of great defense - before Baron completely lost track of Bell for a wide open three at the shot clock buzzer. Seems like maybe Raja Bell was a key for the Bobcats. That last one, with 96 seconds left and the Clippers back within two again, was the dagger.
As good as Bell was, Okafor was better. When the Clippers were threatening to run away after building a 15 point lead in the second quarter, Okafor took over. He scored 15 points in the quarter, including 13 in a row. It's worth noting that most of Okafor's run came against a Clipper lineup consisting of Taylor, Acker, Novak, Brian Skinner and either Ricky Davis or Thornton - so I think it's reasonable to say that the injury situation played a part in LA's problems. But Okafor was a beast. Whether he was finishing the pick and roll, or simply grabbing misses and putting them back (he had three offensive rebounds in the quarter, five for the game), the Clippers had no answer for him.
On a positive note, Mike Taylor was impressive in extended minutes in a close game. His quickness and ability to finish around the basket are impressive. You can't teach 'speed' and he's got it. He also has a knack for just making shots - that funny little 8 foot runner may look easy, but it is definitely not (which is why you don't see it very often). Think about it - name the NBA players who have that shot? I've got Chris Paul, Tony Parker - and Mike Taylor. That's pretty good company. Back in 2000, when Earl Boykins was a Clipper, I thought he was the perfect change of pace player to have around. Someone who could come into a game that, for whatever reason, wasn't going the way you wanted. If the energy was wrong, if the bounces were going to the other team, if your team was flat - put in Boykins, and everything was guaranteed to change. Taylor can be that guy - without the crazy defensive liability of giving away 8 inches to the opposing point guard. BUT (and this is a big but), he's GOT to do a better job of taking care of the ball. He had 4 turnovers (against 3 assists) in 25 minutes last night. Once he simply dribbled off his foot; he sloppily threw a pass away in the crucial third quarter collapse. And in the final minute, with the Clippers within three with the ball, he got out of control going to the basket and tried to force a pass into Zach that simply wasn't there. If he can improve his decision making, stay under control, eliminate the careless mistakes and take care of the ball, he has a chance to be a very good pro (he also has to improve his outside shooting). It sounds like a long list, but the truth of the matter is that those are all things we should expect to see improvement in. The things he does well are the things you can't really teach - so he's got a very high ceiling on his potential, and every opportunity to reach it.
Last thing: why didn't MDsr use a timeout when they got the ball back, down three with 20 seconds left? I'm actually a pretty big fan of going in transition, but it's incredibly uncharacteristic of Dunleavy. Not to mention that he had Steve Novak, Ricky Davis and Alex Acker on his bench. The lineup he had on the floor featured exactly one guy shooting better than 30% from beyond the arc this season - and that guy is Zach Randolph, who's 29% for his career. Even if you want the quick two on that possession, doesn't the presence of some shooters around the arc force the Charlotte defense to push out and open up the middle? Probably ninety-five percent of NBA coaches take the timeout in that situation, and I would have put MDsr right at the top of the list of guys who would go with the conventional wisdom there (he's pretty conventional). It's very strange - I have no idea what he was thinking.