Midway through the second quarter, Blake Griffin was scoreless and the listless Clippers were down 11 to the Nets, the worst team in the league last season. The Clippers got a steal, and Griffin was ahead of the pack, heading for a big crowd pleasing dunk. Instead, he was horse collared from behind by Devin Harris and crashed hard to the floor, where he remained for several minutes. Harris was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul and ejected and Grffin shook off his fall. When he made one free throw, followed by a three pointer by Ryan Gomes on the subsequent possession, the Clippers had cut the lead to seven, and it seemed like maybe that had been the wake up call they needed. They were energized, one of New Jersey's top players was gone, so now they could get the game back under control, right?
The Clippers never seemed to get the wake up call. They would play well for a few possessions, and then make terrible mistakes on the next few. Griffin never woke up either. Through three quarters he had more fouls (4) and as many turnovers (3) as points. He had two rebounds. And yet, the Clippers were only down by six.
Eric Gordon was attacking the rim relentlessly all game, which helped keep the Clippers in it. He went to the line 20 times, making 16 of them. But even he had trouble converting from the field, making just 6 of 20 shots.
The Nets didn't exactly look like world beaters, but it was always enough. In the first half it was former Clipper Travis Outlaw doing the damage; he scored 18 points on 7 for 9 shooting, including 3 three pointers. In the second half, it was Brook Lopez, who followed up a 2 for 5 first half by going 8 for 11, including four jumpers from the identical spot on the baseline in the third.
In addition to Outlaw and Lopez, several lesser Nets seemed to make all their shots. Johan Petro, Derrick Favors and Clipper Killer Kris Humphries combined to make 10 out of 12 shots. Even Quinton Ross made a jumper.
At halftime the shooting percentages were 58.8% to 35.5%. After three, it was 53.5% to 38%. The Clippers had no right to be in the game at all. None. Gordon shot poorly. Griffin was a complete non factor. Yet still they hung around and hung around.
With six minutes to go, they were down three with the ball, but Eric Bledsoe turned it over which gave the Nets a layup the other way. On the next possession, Gordon had an open three that would have cut the Nets' lead to two. He missed, the long rebound was chased down by the Nets who got another easy bucket. After another turnover, the lead was back to 9 and the Clippers never made it out of the hole they dug.
This was a terrible game to watch. The Nets didn't play well - they just played much less badly than the Clippers. There were way to many fouls, and seemingly endless stoppages. The game lasted almost 3 hours, which is a long time to watch basketball. But despite all that, the game was of great interest to Clips Nation for who was on the floor. The starting lineup featured five players under 23. Not only that, the unit on the floor to finish the game in the fourth quarter was the same five kids.
Gordon and Griffin are something of known quantities. How high the ceiling goes remains to be seen, but there's a level of confidence that they are legit and on their way to being big time players. Gordon's 30 tonight helped to solidify that, his poor shooting notwithstanding. Griffin had by far the least impressive outing of his pro career (how is it possible that he got zero defensive rebounds?), but there's little question of what he can do, and he's bound to struggle some nights in this his rookie season.
22 year old DeAndre Jordan got in early foul trouble and was not much of a factor. His fouls mostly fell into the dumb category - two blocks where he failed to get out of the restricted circle, two reaches when he had played good defense to that point. I think he's getting closer to figuring it out... but he's not there yet.
The bright spots for the Clippers were the youngest of the youngsters, Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu. Bledsoe has done this before, so maybe we shouldn't be too surprised at a 15 point, 6 assist, 8 rebound game (although 8 rebounds at 6'0" tall is still surprising). He did have 4 turnovers, but that's the price you pay playing a 20 year old rookie 40 minutes. Aminu had a terrific third quarter, and almost got the Clippers back into the game with his energy. He scored 9 quick points, with a three, a dunk, a steal and layup and a hard drive to the basket. Unfortunately for him he hurt his three point shooting percentage by taking several rushed ones in the fourth quarter when the Clippers were playing catch up. No we know that he's solid when he's got his feet set, and not so good when he doesn't. Still, he's much better from deep than we expected, and his length and athleticism are as advertised.
In the big picture, the most important thing about this season is to develop the young talent. Unfortunately, there could well be a lot of losing along the way. A league-worst 1-10 record, including consecutive home losses to the Pistons and Nets, is worse than expected, even if the rookies are better than expected.