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Clippers 92-Bucks 86 - Growing Pains

Going into tonight’s home game against a depleted Bucks team, I imagine that most of us felt confident of two things. First, the Clippers would surely win this game, and second, the Clippers would somehow not win this game. Personally, I felt both of these deep in my gut. Clipper basketball, folks: Embrace the Contradiction. (Box Score).

The Bucks started the game without starting center Andrew Bogut, starting forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and backup point guard Beno Udrih. During the first half, backup center Jon Brockman came down with a contusion under his eye and was lost for the night. Later in the 4th, Stephen Jackson went down on his back and for a minute looked like he might need a stretcher. Woe to be a Milwaukee fan, eh? Still, the remaining Bucks played with tenacity all night and managed to have a chance in the game’s final minute. They deserve some credit, but at the same time the Clips deserve some criticism. It was an ugly win that exposed more flaws than strengths. Of course, this is probably right time for the team to discover its kinks and iron them out.

The first half was an awful display of basketball, with the Clips turning the ball over 10 times, and the Bucks putting up an untold number of bricks. The Clips weren’t making many shots either, but at least ours were coming close. At the end of the first quarter, the Bucks were shooting 26% from the field, led by a series of 3-point clankers from Brandon Jennings. Still, they were within 3 points, 18 to 15, due in part to three Chris Paul turnovers and two by Blake Griffin. The Clips’ play was sloppy and uninspired, but the Bucks were also playing scrappy D, rotating well and using their long arms to disrupt the offense. The one bright spot in the quarter was some welcome rebounding by Reggie Evans. In his first minute and a half of play, he grabbed no fewer than four rebs (and 6 overall). Unfortunately, he was also fouled a few times and had to shoot free throws. He was 1 for 6 on the night. Can you say Hack-a-Reggie?

The second quarter did not show much improvement. Shaun Livingston came in and made a couple of nice passes for layups. Blake showed some nice footwork and powered in a few short hooks. However, neither team could make a three pointer. Milwaukee ended 1-8 for the half, which means that seven of their shots were messier than spilled marbles. The Clips meanwhile managed to do worse, going 0-9. Chauncey Billups was the main culprit here, but Brian Cook and Ryan Gomes also saw fit to contribute. Billups was at least playing aggressively, compared to Paul who had a quiet first half. In the second quarter, Billups was basically a shoot-first point guard.

The third quarter was easily the Clips’ best. The starters came out with much better energy and built the lead up to 13 points with 5 minutes left. In the first few minutes of the quarter, DJ got a block, Butler and Billups each made a 3, and Paul created a couple turnovers. One Chris Paul steal led to the highlight of the night, a perfect lob that Blake slammed home on the fly. The Clips started the quarter 9 for 10 from the field, and Butler got hot for 14 points in the quarter. However, by the 4-minute mark the momentum started to turn. Our starters looked winded, and the offense grew stagnant. At 63-54 it was surely the right moment for a time out, but Vinnie let it ride until the lead was cut to 63-59. Fortunately, Randy Foye and Mo Williams played well to close out the quarter, stretching the lead back to 10 before Stephen Jackson made a 3 at the buzzer. The Bucks would not get closer than 4 points the rest of the way.

The fourth quarter featured a three-guard lineup for the Clips and Brandon Jennings for the Bucks. DJ also made an appearance, making a couple key blocks and winning a couple jump balls. I thought that VDN did well to bring the starters back around the 9-minute mark, but I am not sure what I think of Mo playing with Billups and Paul. With Caron hot in the 3rd, I would have stuck with what was working. Still, it was interesting to get a peek at this squad. The 3-guard defense led to an exciting open court scrabble at one point, with Mo knocking the ball away from Livingston and DJ creating a jump ball. Caron eventually came back around the 5-minute mark. However, thanks to some ball-hogging heroics from Jennings, neither Clipper squad was able to put the game away. I am not a big fan a Jennings, but he did end up with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. He made some big shots, but he also got a key technical foul, followed shortly by a Chris Paul jumper. Moreover, Jennings did not leave his mark at the end of the game, when a turnover and missed free throw by Paul gave the Bucks a thin shot at pulling it out. Instead, with 30 seconds left the ball went to Gooden, who passed inside to Jackson instead of taking the 3-pointer. The Clips had good defense on the play, but was an odd ending to an ugly game.

Overall, Blake Griffin put in a very solid performance, chalking up 22 points and 14 rebounds. There was one scary moment when he appeared to twist his ankle, but he walked it off and kept playing hard. Impressively, he logged two blocks for the night. Chris Paul, on the other hand, was largely missing. I thought Jennings’ defense gave him some trouble, and towards the end of the 3rd quarter Paul picked up his 4th foul. But none of that explains him passing up open jumpers. Paul is a master at knocking the ball loose and creating steals, but he needs to take more than 6 shots in 37 minutes. He had opportunities, too, but he seemed intent on passing first. It may well be that he is still getting used to his new team. I hope that the coaches continue to urge him to be more aggressive on offense.