The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. The Kings won the season series last year 3-0.
Coach Kim Hughes says that Travis Outlaw, Drew Gooden and Baron Davis are all out for tonight's game, though all three could play on Monday.
That leaves the Clippers with 10 players on the active roster. They are particularly thin on the wings, where Mardy Collins and Steve Novak are pretty much their only options at small forward - less than ideal.
Craig Smith will start at the power forward. Basically, with DeAndre Jordan and Chris Kaman being the only players on the roster with appropriate size, he doesn't feel he can start them together as it would dictate that they rest together as well, and he wants one of them on the court at all times, at least until Gooden is available.
First Quarter Notes:
Two of the Clippers first three offensive possessions, they run pick and roll with Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman. Which is a nice enough idea, given that these guys are both part of the long term plan. But Eric's second pass was not just bad - it was terrible. Still, it's not a bad idea to get them some reps together, and Eric simply needs to get better making those plays.
Before the game I asked Kim Hughes about the plague of turnovers afflicting the team. He assured me that no one is trying to turn the ball over and that they were working of getting them down. However, this game starts the way most of the games of the Hughes era have - with a ridiculous number of early turnovers. Luckily, the Kings return the favor on the other end.
Kim Hughes has a very different style regarding substitution patterns - or maybe he's still trying to figure it out. He goes to Steve Novak at the three relatively early, perhaps thinking that Novak is an OK matchup for Omri Casspi. Or maybe it's just that he knows he's got issues at the two tonight, as he brings Butler back for Eric Gordon quickly.
The game starts about as ugly a game can get - neither team reaches double digits until almost eight minutes are gone - but the teams settle down and start making some shots. Sacto would have a big lead if they'd just stop leaving Rasual Butler, who goes 3 for 3 from 3 in the first quarter.
Second Quarter Notes:
The three pointers are raining down for the Clippers. At one point in the second quarter, they are 6 for 8 from outside the arc, and 3 for 13 from inside the arc. The long ball helps LA build a 15 point lead midway through the second quarter.
The Clippers can't seem to make a three footer - but 23 footers are not a problem. Between Kaman and DeAndre and Rhino, we've seen some of the ugliest hook shots imaginable - three or four airballs and some near misses as well. I'd feel guilty about the team hitting all these threes, but they're kind of making up for it by missing everything else.
In case you are in danger of forgetting that you're watching two teams near the bottom of the conference standings, directly after the trading deadline, who just traded away starters, they are happy to remind you. The play is sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. The Clippers get out to a 50-33 lead - almost entirely based on the ineptitude of the Kings.
Spencer Hawes is an interesting cunundrum. I've always had a soft spot for big guys who can pass, going back to Dave Collins and Bill Walton and Alvin Adams. The Kings don't look particularly good tonight, but their most effective sets have involved getting the ball to Hawes in the high post and running back screens on the baseline to give him passing targets. He's got 3 assists for them. Unfortunately, he appears to be a pretty terrible defender. I'm not sure if he doesn't know the scouting report, or if he is afraid that Chris Kaman is going to drive past him, but he's letting Kaman get his 18 footer with no pressure at all.
The Clippers hang 60 first half points on the Kings - which is pretty frightening when you consider how bad the Clippers' offense has been lately. Of course, making 8 of 10 three pointers helps a lot. The Clippers season high on threes for a game is 10 set here against the Cavs. Obviously they are well on their way to breaking that.
The stat of the first half: LA's three point percentage - 80%. LA's two pointer percentage - 42%.
Third Quarter Notes:
U-G-L-Y you ain't got no alibi. The first four minutes of the third quarter are UGLY. The Clippers open the quarter missing four straight threes (live by it, die by it) and if Sacramento can make their free throws, they'll be right back in it. The Clippers are over the limit with 7:30 left in the quarter. Not good.
Everyone in the building is thinking the same thing. A 15 point half time lead against the Kings - surely we're not going to let this one slip away. But midway through the third, it looks like that's exactly what's going to happen.
This is my first live look at Tyreke Evans, and he's a handful to be sure. What's amazing is that although he's got some glaring holes in his game (he has no perimeter shot to speak of at this point, and he's not a good distributor, which is a problem for a point guard), he's nonetheless very, very effective. His combination of handle and quickness get him into the lane almost at will - even though Eric Gordon is a very good defender and knows he's not going to shoot. Then, once he's there, his combination of size and strength allows him to finish in traffic. He has to get a lot better at making plays for his teammates - I'm not surprised it wasn't working out with Kevin Martin after watching him tonight - but he's got a set of skills that you simply can't teach, and he'll likely get better at all that other stuff.
Despite the lackluster play in the quarter, it appears that the Clippers are going to hang on to their double digit lead going into the fourth. But then a King's run to close the quarter cuts the lead to 9 going into the fourth. So, yeah, we've got a game. Evans scores 11 in the quarter, most of them on drives down the throat of the defense.
Fourth Quarter Notes:
The fact is, with the lineup as currently constituted, the simple fact is that the Clippers are missing two of their top four scoring options tonight. Three if you count Blake Griffin. The two options they do have need to carry the load if they're going to have a chance. And that's exactly what happens in the fourth.
Eric Gordon keys a HUGE Clipper run with a series of and-ones and a step back three. He starts the run with Chris Kaman on the bench, meaning that he's pretty much the only big time threat out there, but he gets it done big time. Then when Kaman returns, he steps right in with a couple of buckets as well. Together, the stretch the lead out to 18 and put the game away.
Gordon's performance in particular is exactly what this team needs done the stretch of the season. We've talked about it many times, and I mentioned it specifically in the preview - the number one priority for the last 8 weeks is to get Eric Gordon comfortable in a role of featured scorer. Consider this game a great start on that goal. Gordon scored 14 in the fourth quarter on a variety of tough shots, and got a curtain call from coach Kim Hughes when he subs him out at the end.