The Clippers leading scorer Eric Gordon left the game with a strained or possibly torn tendon in the ring finger on his shooting hand with 3 minutes to go in the first quarter. When he went to the locker room, Clips Nation held their collective breath. As well as the team has been playing, they can nonetheless ill afford to lose Gordon, their most reliable scorer game in and game out. He returned at the start of the second half, and showed no ill effects. It remains to be seen if the injury will limit him in the near future. The finger will be sore - but he should be able to play with it if he can handle the pain. He seemed to handle it just fine in the second half tonight, playing a team high 21 second half minutes and scoring 18 points with the sore finger (23 overall).
Versus the Timberwolves, they probably could have won without him. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan dominated the first half as the Clippers established a double digit lead early. If Kevin Love and Darko Milicic are supposed to form an intimidating front line for Minnesota, someone forgot to tell Griffin and Jordan. In the first half, Jordan and Griffin combined for 16 rebounds and 31 points; Love and Milicic had 1 rebound and 14 points.
Love won the individual battle with Griffin in the second half, but the war was already over. Love had 16 points and 11 rebounds in the second half to finish the game with his 29th straight double double at 26 and 11, but the Wolves never got closer than 11 after intermission. For his part, Griffin's double double streak ended at 27 - he finished the game with a spectacular 29 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, but there was a palpable gasp in Staples Center when Vinny Del Negro pulled him in the final minutes and the crowd realized that he wasn't going to get his double double. He did finish his part of the game with an exclaimation point, taking a defensive rebound coast to coast, and fnishing with a spin move to free himself for a dunk.
I said in the preview that the Griffin/Gordon versus Love/Beasley would probably be pretty even, and it would come down to the other players on the two teams. Man, I love it when I'm right. Griffin (29) and Gordon (23) combined for 52, while Love (26) and Beasley (21) combined for 47, giving a slight edge to the Clippers. But five other Clippers contributed double figure scoring, led by Baron Davis with 20. A major factor in the outcome was three point shooting. The Clippers made 12 out of 21, while the Wolves were just 1 for 16. That's enough to decide the game right there. On the strength of that balanced attack and their best three point shooting night of the season, the Clippers scored a season high 126, easily beating the 115 they put up in the loss to the Knicks.
While three point shooting and rebounding (the Clippers won the battle of the boards 48 to 33 and had a whopping 22 offensive boards) were both things to be excited about from this game, there was also plenty not to like. The defense wasn't particularly good, alowing 111 points and 50% field goal shooting. They gave up 63 points in the second half alone. The Clippers toyed with their zone early in the third quarter, and on consecutive possessions lost track of a big down low and gave up dunks. This was nothing fancy - just straight passes to guys alone next to the basket. That's just bad defense, no two ways about it.
Worse even than the defense were the turnovers - 24 of them. The Clippers have had several 20+ turnover games this season, but most of them occurred way back in November, and they hadn't had one in over a month. This was the third highest total of the season, and Vinny Del Negro was not happy about it after the game. Against good teams you can't turn the ball over 24 times and win. Fortunately, the Timberwolves are not a good team.
If Gordon ends up requiring any time off, Randy Foye and Eric Bledsoe are going to need to play better than they did today, particularly taking care of the ball. Bledsoe had 5 turnovers in 21 minutes - but he had 4 in his first 6 minutes on the floor. Foye had 3 in 22 minutes. Eight turnovers in 43 minutes is a recipe for disaster. Bledsoe in particular had one of those games we saw from him earlier in the year. When he played smart and made the simple play, he was good. A perfect example was when he passed up a wide open corner three in the first quarter. Instead of just taking the shot when he had it, he messed around and wound up turning the ball over. Later in the quarter, he caught the ball and shot it and it made it. Time and again Bledsoe overcomplicated things today - on a three on two fast break, rather than making the simple pass, he tried a no look that would have had to physically go through Luke Ridnour to get to its target. After getting a turnover, with a three on one advantage, he tried a just strange bounce pass that was way too hard and way too low for Blake. Bledsoe is at his best when he makes the simple play - he needs to remember that.
In the end the Clippers got what they wanted tonight. It may not have been elegant, but they got a relatively easy win on the front end of a back to back. Baron, Gordon, Griffin and Jordan all played relatively light minutes, and they maintained a commanding lead the entire second half. Tomorrow night's opponent Portland played an overtime game in Sacramento tonight, and their starters by contrast played huge minutes.
But that good news has to be tempered with whatever news we get on Eric Gordon's finger.