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Clippers 104 - Chicago 97 - Baron Down the Stretch

In a game that was far from their prettiest of the season, the Clippers got a hard fought victory nonetheless.  Although Eric Gordon played only 21 minutes and missed the final 15, Chris Kaman was not particularly sharp and the Chicago Bulls played with great energy, the Clippers found a way to win.

The Clipper bench was excellent throughout the game.  In the second quarter they retook the lead.  In the fourth they built the lead up to 14.  But when the Bulls started a furious comeback, with Gordon in the locker room and Kaman struggling, it was up to Baron Davis to take control.

Chicago went on a 12-2 run to cut the 14 point lead down to 4 with 4 minutes left.  With the Clippers having difficulty finding shots against the active Bulls defense, Baron took matters into his own hands.  When they cut it to four, he drained a three.  When they cut it to four a few minutes later, he drew a foul behind the three point line for three free throws (he made two of them).  All told, he scored 11 of the Clippers final 14 points to ensure the win.

This was a game that could easily have gotten away.  The Bulls may be limited on offense (although Tyrus Thomas played as well as I've ever seen him play), but you have to give them credit on the defensive end.  They made life difficult for the Clippers in the half court all night.  In fact, were it not for the easy baskets that came from 24 fast break points, the Clippers were probably down around 40% shooting for the game.  Joakim Noah, with weak side help from Tyrus Thomas, kept Kaman from getting to his pet moves.  And when Kaman forced the issue and drew fouls, it still worked out pretty well for Chicago has he missed five free throws.  Overall Kaman was 7 for 18 from the field and 6 for 11 from the line - but amazingly, like clockwork, he still got his 20 points. 

The Clippers as a team missed 16 free throws or this game would not have been close down the stretch.  LA outshot and outrebounded the Bulls.  LA made 5 three pointers to only 2 for Chicago.  Turnovers were relatively even, and the Clippers went to the free throw line 13 more times.  By all rights this game shouldn't have been close down the stretch. 

But it was.

We haven't really seen Baron take over late in games as a Clipper.  The team has other weapons, and the coach tends to call the number of the big guys in late game situations.  But Baron was pretty much the entirety of the Clippers offense for the final four minutes tonight.  On four separate possessions, with the Clippers desperate for points in order to keep Chicago at bay, Baron delivered - a three, a tough step back jumper, free throws, and a terrific driving layup.  It was the type of performance that we thought we'd be seeing a lot of when he signed with the Clippers - there haven't been many, but tonight was a great one.

In addition to Baron's heroics, the Clippers bench was a key to the victory.  Al Thornton returned to the lineup after missing a couple of games with a sprained ankle and he was outstanding.  He provided exactly what the Clippers hoped he would as the primary scorer off the bench.  He scored 17 points in 18 minutes on 7 for 9 shooting.  (Truthfully, you have to wonder why he wouldn't get more than 18 minutes in this game.)  Craig Smith continued his solid play as well.  But the real pleasant surprise off the bench was Ricky Davis.  With Gordon missing time because of a sprained big toe (and I assume it was bothering him in the first half as well, as he only played 12 first half minutes, well below his standard), Ricky came in and provided a big boost.  He finished the game with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in 27 minutes.  He was really into the game from the minute he stepped on the court.  You have to give Ricky credit - he had a terrible season last year, but he's played hard when he's gotten opportunities this season, and he's given the Clippers a lift on a couple of occasions.  Unfortunately, with the Clippers playing Denver tomorrow night, Ricky may have to play big minutes again tomorrow.

Finally, what is there to say about Marcus Camby?  He grabbed a season high 25 rebounds - almost single-handedly accounting for the Clippers rebounding edge in the game.  I wish I was the one fielding the phone calls as we approach the trade deadline.  I would love to know what kind of offers the Clippers are getting for this guy.

The bottom line is that the Clippers took care of their home court in their getaway game.  It's also significant because it represents the midpoint of the season, and the Clippers have now won 19 games - as many as they won all of last season.  They now head out for their monster eight game road trip.  This trip will probably determine how the rest of the season goes.