|Final - 4.1.2009
|New Orleans Hornets
|Los Angeles Clippers
Call this game "A Tale of Two Chrisses."
Chris Paul is amazing. He does exactly what he wants to do all the time. Even the things he supposedly doesn't do well, he does well. For instance, he's not supposed to be a great outside shooter. But on a crucial possession with just over a minute to go in the fourth quarter and the Hornets clinging to a one point lead, deep in the shot clock after Baron Davis had defended about five consecutive pick and rolls, he calmly made a 20 footer with a hand in his face. I tend to dislike the superstar-driven nature of the NBA. During crunch time of close games, teams depend on their star to simply carry them through and any semblance of team basketball is lost. But it's the nature of the NBA, and it delivers championships. Other than the 2004 Pistons, every NBA champion for the last 30 years has had a mega-superstar to give the ball. Chris Paul is as much that guy as any other player in the league right now. For the final six minutes of this game (not including two free throws in the final seconds after it was decided), the Hornets scored 14 points. Paul scored 8 of them, and assisted on the other 6.
He finished with 30 points on 13 for 19 shooting, handed out 14 assists, and grabbed 6 steals. In fact, the Clippers really lost this game during the first six minutes of the second quarter, when Paul was on the bench and the Hornets were +1 without him. As I was watching them founder ineptly I kept thinking "They're going to regret this later." It was a brutal 6 minutes of basketball, watching the Clippers clang shots, throw balls away, and lose ground to the likes of Devin Brown and Sean Marks.
The other Chris is Chris Kaman, the evil opposite of Chris Paul. Kaman is over seven feet tall. Paul is probably under six. Kaman never knows what he's going to do. Paul always knows what he's going to do. And even when Paul has no idea what he's going to do, he manages to do something good at the last moment. But even when Kaman knows exactly what he's going to do, he manages to change his mind and screw it up.
Kaman's line for the game looks respectable. A dozen points on 6 for 12 shooting. 10 rebounds. Not bad, right? Wrong. The Hornets were defending him with the likes of Hilton Armstrong and Sean Marks and a one-legged David West. He should have had 20 and 20 at LEAST in this game. I would say that the Hornets forced Kaman into 6 turnovers, but frankly I didn't see them forcing him into much of anything - he just gave them the ball 6 times.
There were multiple Mr. Flippy sightings in the game, but one in particular in the first quarter has to rank high on the all time Mr. Flippy list. Trailing the fast break, Kaman tried to tip in the Fred Jones miss and blocked himself on the rim. Undeterred, he gathered the rebound, collected himself, and recognizing that he was about 3 inches and 50 pounds bigger than any Hornet in the vicinity, he did the first thing that came to his mind - which was apparently to turn away from the basket and shoot a no look left handed finger roll from the left side. To no one's surprise, he missed that. But, he once again chased down the rebound. This time, he found himself on the right side of the basket completely alone. So of course, with all the time in the world, he rushed the shot and missed yet another bunny. Here's how the sequence looks on the play-by-play.
5:07 14-16 Fred Jones misses layup
5:05 14-16 Chris Kaman offensive rebound
5:05 14-16 Chris Kaman misses tip shot
5:03 14-16 Chris Kaman offensive rebound
5:03 14-16 Chris Kaman misses layup
5:01 14-16 Chris Kaman offensive rebound
5:01 14-16 Chris Kaman misses layup
You think it looks ugly in print? It was far uglier on TV. So those 10 rebounds? Only seven, if you eliminate these three that amounted to squat. I guess his shooting percentage goes up too, if you take away these ridiculous misses.
But that's sort of the point. He should never have missed in this game. He was so much bigger and stronger than anyone New Orleans had, he should have simply overpowered people. Dunk the damn ball, Kaman! Instead, he turned the ball over six times, complained about calls and got a technical foul, slapped at rebounds instead of grabbing them, and watched the one legged David West shoot jumpers. He actually played some good defense in the fourth quarter, but that only served to infuriate me more that he had been so lackadaisical until that point.
On the whole, in addition to those six minutes at the beginning of the second quarter, the Clippers killed themselves all game with turnovers. They had 23 on the night. Yes, Chris Paul is clever, and yes he'll get some steals. But if you throw the ball directly to him, you make it a little too easy. When the Clippers weren't throwing it to Paul, they were throwing it out of bounds. Or traveling. But you can't turn the ball over 23 times and beat the Hornets - not if Chris Paul is out there, even if he is playing without Chandler, without Peja, without Posey and without one of West's legs.