Going into this game, the Clippers were 5-25 on the road and 4-16 without Eric Gordon in the lineup. So playing in Charlotte, without Gordon, did not bode well for the team. But a solid team effort produced their sixth road win of the season, as five Clippers scored between 10 and 17 points.
The Clippers have relied heavily on individual players to carry them this season, specifically Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. Griffin scored just 17 tonight, and it was the his lowest point total in a Clipper victory this season. It was also the first time this season that the Clippers have won a game without a 20 point scorer. But with 17 each from Griffin and Mo Williams, 16 from Chris Kaman, 13 from Eric Bledsoe and 10 from Randy Foye, the Clippers spread the wealth and held on to beat the Bobcats in a game that was close the entire way.
The Clippers won the game in solid if unspectacular fashion. Save for a 9-0 run Charlotte run early in the second half during which LA was scoreless for about four minutes, the Clippers avoided the prolonged lapses that have plagued them all season. Neither team enjoyed a double digit lead in the game - but once the Clippers took the lead back late in the third quarter, they never trailed again.
Charlotte is clearly going to find it difficult to win games while Stephen Jackson is injured and in the aftermath of the Gerald Wallace trade. However, they got some surprisingly good offensive performances tonight from Boris Diaw (8 for 13, 19 points), Gerald Henderson (10 for 18, 20 points) and Shaun Livingston (6 for 11, 17 points). But despite being out shot from the field (45% to 42%), the Clippers outplayed the Bobcats in every other aspect of the game to win. They won the rebounding battle, got to the line more and shot a higher percentage, and also made more three pointers. They also had a relatively low 13 turnovers, far below their season average.
The question that I'm asking myself after this game is, how much longer before Kaman is the starter at center again? I like DeAndre Jordan as much as the next guy, but if he's out there for his defense and rebounding, I think it's pretty important to realize that Kaman is a better defender, and about as good at rebounding and blocking shots. But on offense, Kaman adds an element that the team really needs. Even in the absence of a great offensive scheme, pick and roll with Griffin balanced with pick and pop with Kaman can be pretty hard to stop. Chris was not particularly sharp in the first half tonight - he made only 2 of 8 shots before halftime. But he was 4 for 5 in the second half, in addition to playing solid low post defense and grabbing 10 rebounds in 31. The team is just plain better with Kaman on the floor. He played 31 minutes to Jordan's 17 tonight (Craig Smith re-emerged in the rotation to spell Griffin at power forward), and that is pretty close to the distribution of minutes I'd recommend, but if you're going to play Kaman starter minutes, I'd say it makes sense to have him in the starting lineup.
Griffin finished the game with 17 points and 15 rebounds. He had only 11 field goal attempts, after taking only 10 against Denver on Saturday and 12 against Houston last week. In addition to relatively low field goal attempts for Blake Griffin, those other games have something else in common: they were all Clpper wins. It's unfortunate that Gordon is going to be out again of course, but with Kaman back in the lineup, not to mention Mo Williams along with Eric Bledsoe and Randy Foye, there are other good scoring options on the floor and Griffin doesn't have to forge things against double and triple teams. He's doing a good job of getting the ball out to his teammates, and I guarantee you he'll take the wins over the shots any time.
Next stop on this five game road trip is the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics. The trip got off to a good start tonight, but the Celtics will be a much bigger challenge. Still, when you have only 5 road wins, every one is big.