With Eric Gordon shooting 4 for 18 for the game, and Mo Williams missing 9 of his last 10 shots before being ejected, the Clippers had very little right to be in this game against one of the best teams in the league. Yet for much of the contest it was very close. The Clippers built an early 13 point lead at 23-10, but they let Dallas most of the way back in before the first quarter ended, and from 2:28 mark of the first until the 8:00 mark of the fourth, it was a see saw game, with neither team holding a double digit lead.
At that point the Mavericks went on an unlikely and unattractive 13 to 1 run that gave them a 16 point lead with 5:26 left in the game, and although the Clippers tried to mount a comeback, the lead was just too big and they could get no closer than 4 the rest of the way. As is often the case, the run was as much about Clipper mistakes as it was about great Dallas play; and the refs certainly weren't doing the Clippers any favors either.
It started in an unexpected manner - with a great defensive possession by the Clippers. For a few possessions, the teams had been trading scores. The Clippers had gotten back within two, but couldn't seem to get the stop that was going to allow them to get over the hump. They finally forced Dallas deep into their possession, and Dirk Nowitzki had to force a very long three pointer to beat the shot clock. He missed, but Brendan Haywood beat Chris Kaman to the rebound and made the putback - he was also fouled, but missed his free throw. After Kaman missed a jumper, Nowitzki made one of two free throws. The run stood at 3-0.
On the next Clippers possession, a scramble near the Mavs' bench found Blake Griffin with the ball closely guarded by Nowitzki - a subtle shove by Dirk had Griffin falling out of bounds, and he heaved the ball towards the basket, anticipating the foul call and hoping to get rewarded with three free throws, but he got no reward at all. Instead, Dirk got a dunk the other way, and Blake got a technical foul for chirping at the ref, and Nowitzki made that free throw. 6-0 run, 10 point lead (Dallas' first double digit lead of the game).
After Williams then sank a defensive three second technical free throw (the Clippers only point during almost 3 minutes as it would turn out), Eric Gordon forced a tough runner in the lane that didn't draw iron. Clipper Killer J.J. Barea then took a jump shot near the top of the circle that was closely contested by Williams, he missed and the Clippers got the rebound - about that time, the whistle blew, and a foul was called on Williams during Barea's shot. Official Mike Callahan apparently felt that Williams had... well, that he had... maybe he thought he... see, here's the thing, I have no idea what Callahan thinks he saw, nor why it took him so long to decide that it was a foul after all. And as it happens, Williams was no more happy about the call than I was. He argued and was hit with a technical foul. He kept arguing... and was rung up again and ejected. Barea made his two free throws, Dirk made two more technical free throws, and now it was a 10-1 run and a 13 point lead.
On the next Clippers' possession, Kaman threw the ball away trying to force a pass to Gordon, and when Barea hit a three pointer, the run was complete at 13-1 and the lead stretched to 16. With two three point possessions and a four point possession (aided by three technical fouls), the Mavs had managed to score 13 points on just five touches - and they actually missed two free throws! Meanwhile, the Clippers managed to hit the rim just once during that span.
Then something quite unexpected happened - the Clippers went on an 11-0 run of their own to cut the lead back down to five. But a couple of Clipper turnovers and five straight points by Barea put the deficit back at 10 with two minutes to go, and the game was out of reach.
I am, at this point, completely fascinated by J.J. Barea. For one thing, I can't think of another NBA player I'd more like to punch in the face. Partly of course, because he's one of only a few NBA players who wouldn't put me in the hospital in any physical confrontation. But it's not just that - after all, it's not like I want to punch Earl Boykins. Barea is just so damn annoying. Then again, he wouldn't be annoying at all if he was playing for the team you were cheering for. But the real reason I'm fascinated by Barea is that he somehow manages to play like he's All NBA first team all the time against the Clippers, and just looking at his stats, it's pretty clear he can't be this good (or really, anywhere close to this good) against the rest of the league. Tonight he scored 22 points in 21 minutes and played the entire fourth quarter. In his last two games against the Clippers, Barea has scored 47 points in 54 minutes while making 15 of 20 field goal attempts and 5 of 7 three point attempts. He's also 12 for 14 from the line and has 10 assists against 1 turnover. His effective field goal percentage in the two games is 87.5%, and his true shooting percentage is well over 90%. He has been Dallas' best player in each of the last two Maverick victories over LA.
Despite the loss, and the overarching annoyance that is Barea, there was something to like about this game. The Clippers youth and inexperience certainly showed in the fourth quarter, as they failed to execute their offense, turned the ball over, and lost their cool with the refs to the tune of three technicals. But we also saw a spark from Blake Griffin that seemed somehow different than anything we've seen before. During the 11-0 Clipper run, Griffin scored the final six points, all on open court plays. We've seen Griffin finish plays masterfully, but these were plays that he started and finished himself. For a few moments there, he was a one man fast break, getting the ball and pushing it up court. We haven't seen this sort of coast-to-coast play from Blake very often this season, but I have a feeling we'll be seeing it a lot more next season. And speaking of the development in his game, he's also getting quite adept at the up fake, step through move. I don't think he made that move a single time through the end of February, but he's making it fairly regularly now, and converted it into two buckets tonight. Griffin finished the game with 25 points on 10 for 14 shooting, 17 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.
Wins are not going to come easily in these final two weeks. The opponents, like Dallas tonight, have much more at stake than do the Clippers. At this point, five of the final seven are
at home on the road. And as long as the Clippers continue to show their inexperience (19 turnovers and multiple technical fouls were fairly decisive tonight) it's going to be difficult to get wins.