I watched this game at home with my good friends Nick and Maya, who are passing through LA after their honeymoon in New Zealand. Neither is a huge hoops fan - Nick usually goes to a Clippers game with me when he's in town, but Maya may have been watching her first ever NBA game. It's always interesting to me to watch games with people who aren't immersed in the NBA, because it helps me see things from a different perspective.
At the start of the game, I mentioned that the Clippers had lost 13 of 14 against the Pistons, and Nick, very logically stated that it didn't matter - these are two different teams, so seven years of history has no bearing on this particular game. I had to confront my illogical (yet very real) belief that it did matter - that certain opponents just have a team's number. Maybe it's confidence of the dominant team, or lack of confidence of the other team. Maybe there's something else. But something about the Pistons just seems to mean that the Clippers will struggle, regardless of who is on the roster.
For most of the first half, it seemed that my illogical fear was well-founded. Then again, maybe it wasn't so illogical after all. While it's true that the Pistons were 21 and 35 coming into this game, most of those losses came with either Tayshaun Prince or Rip Hamilton or both out of the lineup. Both of those guys were playing tonight, and neither has much experience with losing to the Clippers (Prince has none). As for the Clippers, they just couldn't make shots in the first half. They hovered around 30% shooting for most of it, and compounded that by turning the ball over 10 times, continuing a disturbing trend. By all rights they should have been down by 20, but somehow they found themselves down only 8 at the intermission.
The second half was much better. The Clippers held onto the ball (4 turnovers) and started making some shots. They also played pretty good defense, making Detroit work much harder for their scores.
In the fourth quarter, two guys who had combined to miss all seven of their three point attempts through three quarters decided to dual it out from beyond the arc. Rasual Butler made three three pointers in the quarter - and each one was huge. He tied the game for the first time since the first quarter with his first three. His second a few moments later gave them their biggest lead of the game to that point, a four point cushion. And his last secured the lead for good after Detroit had regained control.
On the other side, Hamilton, a 25% three point shooter this season who had made only 21 on the year coming in, made two on consecutive possessions to take a 3 point Clipper lead and flip it. Then, with less than a minute to go, he made his biggest shot of the night to give the Pistons the lead with the shot clock winding down. Butler answer immediately with his own three.
For all of his prowess shooting the three, Hamilton was terrible from the free throw line tonight. He made only 2 of 8, and missed three in the final seconds when he could have cut the lead to 1 and given Detroit one final chance in the game. It had to have been Hamilton's worst free throw shooting night ever.
For the Clippers, Butler was clearly the hero. While it's true that he struggled in the rest of the game (he was 2 for 10 going into the fourth), his 12 points in the final frame were crucial. He also made the block on Stuckey that more or less sealed the win.
The bad news is that Eric Gordon struggled for the second game in a row. The three pointer wasn't falling (1 for 4), nor was he particularly successful driving. He finished 4 for 13 from the field, scoring just 13 points on those 13 shots, a much lower efficiency than we're used to seeing from EJ.
We wondered in the preview what Kim Hughes would do at the power forward spot. I knew that eventually Drew Gooden would be the starter there. DeAndre Jordan is not a 4, and Craig Smith is a little undersized and one dimensional to be the starter. Well, eventually came a little sooner than I expected, as Gooden became the starter in only his second game as a Clipper. He responded with 20 points and 13 rebounds (6 offensive rebounds). Combined with Chris Kaman's 21 and 15, the Clippers starting big went for 41 points and 28 rebounds - a monstrous night.
Gooden and Kaman helped the Clippers to a huge 56 to 44 rebounding advantage. After giving up 19 offensive rebounds to the Pistons in their first meeting in Detroit, it was pretty disconcerting to see Detroit grab 17 offensive rebounds in this one. But then again the Clippers themselves had 21 offensive boards, so that more than made up for it.
It's nice to get a win against the Pistons. It's nice to have the team on a three game winning streak. It's nice to have the team look relatively deep for the second game in a row (Craig Smith didn't do much, and Travis Outlaw didn't have as good a game as he did on Monday, but even so you tell these guys can play). But things get a LOT tougher Friday in Phoenix, so let's not get too excited just yet.
A couple of final notes on this game:
- Kim Hughes took over the Clippers talking about how they were going to be a fast breaking team. For the second game in a row, both of them wins, the Clippers got zero fast break points.
- The Pistons are paying $16.5M this season, and $96M over five seasons, to two guys who played a combined 36 minutes tonight - and they signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva this summer. It's not like they got a couple good years out of them and then they declined. The contract is starting out as a disaster - we'll have to invent new words for how bad it will be a couple of years from now. Gordon didn't make a shot or score a point. Those contracts are going to doom the Pistons to mediocrity for 3 or 4 seasons at least. Let's hope GMMDsr notes the lesson - don't spend your cap space just because you can.