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Sacramento 97 - Clippers 92 - Execution at the End of Quarters

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The Clippers shot only 37% in this game.  Their guard rotation of Baron Davis, Eric Gordon and Steve Blake combined to make just 10 of 34 shots (29%) and 2 of 11 threes (18%).  But amazingly, when Chris Kaman grabbed a rebound in the final two minutes, the team had possession down one and a chance to take their first lead since midway through the first quarter.  The possession, along with the Clippers' faint hopes in this game, lasted about a second, as Ime Udoka stole Kaman's lazy outlet pass, Tyreke Evans made a layup, and the Kings secured a five point win.

It's tempting to blame the loss on Kaman for that late turnover - or perhaps for the blown layup, or the pass from Drew Gooden he dropped out of bounds - but while Kaman was not particularly sharp, neither were his teammates.  In particular, in the last few minutes of quarters, the Kings were able to execute and get points, while the Clippers were not.

It began in the first.  With the Clippers down 2, 20-18, the Kings went on a 12-0 run over the last two minutes of the first quarter.  In a very real sense, that run was the entire difference in the game.  The Kings never again trailed, and never led by more than 16.  They also scored on their last possession of each of the first three quarters - a buzzer beating jumper by Spencer Hawes in the first, a coast-to-coast drive for a layup by Tyreke Evans at halftime, and a crazy runner by Donte Greene in the third.

In the fourth, after fighting uphill all game, the Clippers seemed to just run out of gas after getting within one.  When they got the ball back after Kaman's turnover, they had one of the ugliest possessions you'll ever want to see, with Rasual Butler essentially dribbling nowhere while the rest of the team stood around, until Baron Davis had to force a 30 footer deep in the clock.  The next time they got the ball they were down five with 43 seconds to go and in dire straits.

It's a foregone conclusion that Tyreke Evans will be the rookie of the year at this point, and deservedly so.  He's terrific.  But he has a quality that goes beyond "impressive-for-a-rookie".  On big possessions, he has the ability to get not just shots, but layups.  That's not supposed to happen against a competent NBA defense (and perhaps the Clippers were not tonight, but usually they are).  In a one point game, in the final two minutes, on consecutive possessions, Evans got lay ups.  Lay.  Yups.  That's superstar stuff.

For the optimists who were betting that the Clippers could reach 30 wins before they reached 40 losses, this one hurt.  The next 10 games come against teams in or near the playoffs, so beating a bottom feeder like the Kings was essential to putting together a decent run.  It didn't happen.

Regardless of the opponent, the Clippers will have to shoot better, and close quarters better, if they want to win games.