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Sacramento 96 - Clippers 94 - A Fitting End to Pre-season

Question:  How do you outshoot your opponent 47% to 38% and still lose the game?

Answer: By sending them to the line 42 times against 26.

Actually, there's something fundamentally bizarre about this game.  The Kings had 5 more field goal attempts AND those 16 additional free throws.  That's a whole HECK of a lot of extra chances to score.  Yet, the Clippers only had one fewer offensive rebound, and four more turnovers.  So how do those 5 extra possessions turn into 5 more field goals and 16 more free throws?  Sounds more like 13 more possessions, doesn't it?

Not to got too far down this particular rabbit hole (or is it too late?) there are of course a lot of details that are hard to decipher from the box score.  For instance, there are extra free throws in the form of technical fouls and and-ones that amount to extra points without an extra possession (the Clippers picked up three personal T's and a few more defensive three second calls).  There are also end of quarter situations that can skew the numbers a bit (the Clippers did get some end of quarter shots up, they just didn't make them, and Eric Gordon's first quarter three was disallowed by a split second).

The answer to the mystery in this box score is hidden the 'team rebounds' stat.  A bunch of Sacramento's 14 team rebounds had to be of the offensive variety - after all, the Kings missed 50 shots while the Clippers missed 40, yet the overall rebounding totals were equal.  It stands to reason that the Kings got about 5 more offensive rebounds, even though the individual totals only show 1 extra.

Boy, was that a useless tangent.  You know, that's the great thing about having a blog... you want to go on a useless tangent, you go on a useless tangent. 

As for the game, the Clippers showed for the fifth consecutive time that they can lose the close ones.  The weird thing is, if Vinny Del Negro felt it was important to win this one, he didn't much show it.  The unit on the floor for the final 8 minutes was primarily Eric Bledsoe, Randy Foye, Al-Farouq Aminu, Craig Smith and Jarron Collins.  Actually, Kaman was out there until he fouled out (on a brutal call, by the way, which negated a basket and sent Chris to the bench, for a play that happens pretty much all the time in every basketball game).  Blake Griffin didn't play at all because of mild ankle sprain, Ryan Gomes didn't play because of tendinitis in his knee, and Eric Gordon sat out the second half after also turning an ankle (again, it didn't look like a big problem, just a case of being cautious).  But Baron Davis had a +11 in 32 minutes, so you might have thought he'd play down the stretch of close one. 

Is it cause for concern that the Clippers are 1-7, the worst record in the NBA, during pre-season?  Let me put it this way:  does anyone think the Minnesota Timberwolves (5-2) are the third best team in the West?  That the Cavs (5-2) are the third best team in the East?  The Clippers pre-season will be completely forgotten if they win their first game.  One game, and the 1-7 pre-season is a complete non-issue.

Of course, on the other hand, if the Clippers start the regular season slowly, and in particular if they are unable to win close games, the pre-season will then be an ominous portent of things to come.

As we've already discussed (ad naseum) with the anomalous box score, this game just didn't feel like the Clippers were losing - not at any point.  The Sacramento players you fear were mediocre to bad.  Tyreke Evans shot 5 for 17 (though he did hit the game winner).  Carl Landy fouled out with 5 points on 7 shots.  DeMarcus Cousins had 14 points, but took 12 shots to get there, and only had 4 rebounds.  Only Omri Casspi and Darnell Jackson had good games.

On the other hand, most the Clippers you would like to see have a good game did just that:  Chris Kaman was stellar, shooting 10 for 16 for 21 points, along with 10 rebounds and 4 blocked shots (though he did pick up 6 fouls and commit 4 turnovers).  He scored on a variety of moves, and looked pert near unstoppable frankly.  But the four blocked shots were perhaps the most impressive.  His rejection of a Jason Thompson dunk at the rim was spectacular, and on at least two of his blocks, he kept the ball in play and the Clippers secured possession, a nuance that Bill Russell would appreciate. 

Baron Davis was also very good, picking up 15 points and 8 assists in his 32 minutes.  I'm going to be an apologist for him on his 5 turnovers - some were bad, but at least two seemed like catchable balls to me that his teammates just weren't ready for.  He could easily have had 10 assists and 3 turnovers if they make those catches. 

Most pleasing for me was that Aminu showed me something tonight that I simply haven't seen from him before.  He's had a couple of good pre-season games, most notably the last time out against the Kings.  But those games weren't on TV, so it was hard for me to override the images in my head of the overwhelmed kid in Las Vegas Summer League.  Well, tonight he looked like a baller.  It's not just the 15 points and 9 rebounds.  It's the way he got those points.  The plays that will make highlight reels are of course the banked in three that tied the game in the final 20 seconds, and the alley oop reverse lay up on a half court lob from Baron.  The three was of course luck, so let's not get too excited about that.  But that alley oop literally made me gasp, which is not something I do a lot (especially when Blake Griffin is on the bench).  The presence and body control, to catch the ball on one side of the rim, sail under and make the reverse lay up on the other side, was my first inkling that this guy is a special ballplayer as opposed to just a special specimen.  There was also a non-highlight reel play that was just as significant for me.  During the first half, he got a kick ahead pass while running the left lane, more or less even with two Kings defenders.  At full speed, he attacked on the left side (with his left hand, thank you very much Jay Bilas) and simply rode the ball straight to the rim.  He made it look easy, which is why it was so special - because that was not an easy play.  When the Clippers drafted him, I thought that he would at least be able to run the floor and get some transition points this year, even if the rest of his game took some time to develop.  This is the kind of play I envisioned him making; truth be told, this was much better than I'd hoped for.  If he can rebound, defend and run from his three spot this season, he'll help; he'll help more than I feared he might after Las Vegas.

In retrospect, I think I know now why the Clippers lost.  My three players of the game combined for 14 turnovers (Aminu 5, Davis 5, Kaman 4).  I think we can safely assume that taking care of the basketball will be emphasized during the 8 days between now and Opening Night.