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Denver 109 - Clippers 104 - A Wee Bit Frustrating

I'm pretty sure that I can't possibly weave together a coherent narrative to adequately describe this game. So instead, I've decided to just list some of the particularly frustrating things that happened, and I think you'll get the gist from there.

  • The Nuggets shot 49 59 free throws, and the Clippers shot 29 free throws.
  • As a result, the Nuggets outscored the Clippers by 25, 45 to 20, from the line.
  • Denver's totals for free throw attempts and makes were each season highs for the NBA this year. In fact, it is the highest total of attempts for any team in almost four years, since New York took 63 in a game in December 2006.
  • Despite the massive discrepancy, the Clippers stayed close the entire game. They were down one at halftime.
  • At the end of a see-saw third quarter that saw the lead change hands multiple times, a Chris Kaman layup cut the lead back down to one with 2 seconds left in the quarter. Ty Lawson took the inbounds pass and banked in a 65 footer to give Denver a four point margin going into the break, and the Nuggets never trailed again.
  • While the Clippers were scrambling to get back into the game, Baron Davis knocked the ball away and chased it down on the sideline where he saved it, but Chauncey Billups beat Blake Griffin to the ball, and the Nuggets got - what else - free throws out of the possession.
  • Moments later, with the Clippers still desperately trying to climb back into the game, Eric Gordon knocked the ball free into the backcourt. In the scramble, J.R. Smith came up with the ball, in the backcourt, with three seconds on the shot clock.... and EJ fouled him. What else - free throws.
  • Despite EVERYTHING the Clippers made enough shots, got enough steals, to have a chance. They got the biggest steal of the game with 38 seconds, down three. They brought the ball up and Brian Cook got a good look at a corner three - he'd made three of them in the quarter to keep the Clippers in the game - but he missed it.
  • On Cook's miss, Blake Griffin appeared to be in the best position to get the rebound, but just couldn't get his arms up to it. On the replay, Carmelo Anthony has Blake in a bear hug as he is boxing him out.
  • Seconds later, with a chance to cut the lead down to 2, Blake missed the second of two free throws.
  • The Clippers got a gift from Al Harrington when he missed two free throws to leave the lead at 3 with 19 seconds left. But the Clippers failed to get the defensive rebound when JR Smith snuck past Blake to tap the ball away.

It's hard to beat Denver in Utah Colorado. It's even harder when they shoot 30 more free throws. When 65 footers are dropping in and you can't get a rebound and you can't catch a break... well, it's amazing that the Clippers were in this game at all.

You know, free throws aren't the most exhilarating part of any basketball team, so 78 of those bad boys is not exactly a boon to my viewing pleasure. But when the team I've chosen to root for winds up on the wrong end of a THIRTY FREE THROW DISPARITY... let's just say it's even less fun.

The conventional wisdom, when such a large free throw disparity exists in an NBA game (ignoring the simplistic and unthinkable possibility of some sort of bias on the part of the officiating crew) usually goes one of two ways (frequently a combination of both):

 (1) Team A - the team taking significantly fewer free throws - is a jump shooting team, and/or

 (2) Team B - the team taking lots and lots of free throws - was the aggressor, attacking the basket.

Well, the Clippers held a huge advantage in points in the paint in this game (52 to 24), while the Nuggets made 10 of 24 threes, so the first explanation doesn't make a ton of sense - Denver was shooting significantly more jump shots, yet got to the line twice as frequently. Further, the Clippers have been a very aggressive team attacking the rim this season, and in fact were fourth in the league in free throws attempted going into the game. Yet on Eric Gordon's first seven forays into the lane, he came away with no makes, plenty of contact, and no free throws. Blake Griffin, took only 5 free throws on the game. Actually, the Clippers 29 attempts were a little ABOVE their season average of 27 per game; it was the Nuggets, essentially DOUBLING their already high average of 30 free throws per game that was the outlier. So if none of the conventional explanations make sense, then I guess we can only conclude that the Clippers were unusually incapable - I'm talking a statistical variance WAY outside of the standard deviation - of playing defense without fouling this evening. (Bear in mind, we've already dismissed any notion of referee shenanigans on the basis of it being completely out of the question.)

Other notes:

Baron Davis once again sparked the Clippers and Chris Kaman looked quite sharp, making 4 of 5 shots in his return to the lineup after an 11 game absence. Davis and Kaman both picked up 5 fouls which limited their minutes even more than they would have been. When Baron checked into the game in the first quarter he completely changed the momentum in the Clippers favor, at least for a time. Baron had five steals in the game, and it was in fact his defensive pressure that helped turn the tide in the first, and then almost got the Clippers back into the game in the fourth. But it was hard to maintain much momentum amidst the Denver parade to the free throw line.

Al-Farouq Aminu had his deer in the headlights thing going on at the beginning of the game. Two quick fouls, a turnover and 5 Carmelo Anthony points in the first few minutes, and Ryan Gomes was off the bench and checking into the game as I suspected might happen. AFA did make two third quarter three pointers to redeem himself some.

Eric Bledsoe had 9 points and 8 assists - but also had some really terrible turnovers. Two in succession in the fourth quarter were particularly detrimental.

Blake Griffin finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds - which would be a tremendous line for a rookie, if we weren't accustomed to so much more. He had 5 turnovers.

Eric Gordon started the game 0 for 7, missing multiple chances at the rim. But he had a better second half, and managed to finish with 24 points, right on his season average. He's due for a really big game very soon, I'd say.

This was a golden opportunity to get a quality win on the road.

Bizarre Whistle of the Game: It's so hard to pick out just one. I think the play were Baron Davis is boxing out Chris Andersen, and they called a loose ball foul on Davis, I suppose for rooting Andersen out when it appeared that he wasn't doing anything the least bit unusual on the play, was my favorite. It was at a key time also, with 90 seconds left in the third and the Clippers down two. Davis got the rebound, and the Clippers would have had a chance to tie or take the lead. Instead, the lead was back up to four, and Baron had picked up his fifth foul.

Meanwhile, on two separate occasions, Carmelo Anthony sent Blake Griffin to the floor - hard - without being assessed a foul on either occasion. Now, it's true that each occurred in a situation in which referees rarely call fouls. One was on a made Denver layup, and the second was after a foul had already been called against Arron Afflalo. But just because you don't usually get fouls called there, doesn't mean you can't, and Blake could easily have been hurt on either play (in fact he wrenched his shoulder on the second one). In the specific case of the foul after the Afflalo whistle, the first call is by no means a license to do whatever you want. You can't throw a player to the ground, just because he's already been fouled.