Tonight, on the national stage, with the great Marv Albert calling play by play, the Clippers took on conference rival Portland Trailblazers. It was an opportunity for the Clippers to go on the road with the whole country watching to show that they are the real deal. They opened the game playing by far their worst half of basketball of the year, and found themselves down by as many as 18 points in the game. In spite of the slow start, the Clippers managed to come all the way back and win this game. Winning ugly is still winning, and the Clippers may very well have shown just how real they are. The box score is here for anyone who missed it. More after the Jump.
After an uninspired first quarter, the Clippers found themselves down 27-20, and were torched by Nicolas Batum for 15 points on 6-7 shooting. Batum hit a few good shots from outside, but also had at least 6 points on uncontested layups on back cuts. Very poor defense by the Clippers. The Clippers were as close as they were largely due to the fact that Blake Griffin played well to open the game, and seemed to have a mismatch against any defender the Blazers threw at him. 9 points and 6 boards for Griffin in the opening quarter on a mix of putbacks, post moves, and jump shots. With Deandre Jordan picking up two quick fouls, the Clippers got some good minutes off the bench from Kenyon Martin, with 2 impressive offensive rebound putbacks. I can't say enough about how impressed I have been with Martin since signing with the Clips. The guy has a high basketball IQ, much higher than I ever game him credit for, and he really moves his feet well on defense. On top of that, he still has a surprising amount of athleticism left considering his knee operations and age.
During the second quarter, it became increasingly obvious that the Clippers were flat in this game. The offense was stagnant, with no sign of the great ball movement that the Clippers have shown flashes of in recent weeks. On top of that, the Clippers continued their trend of poor execution out of timeouts, which has not been good at all this season. While the Blazers were shorthanded with Lamarcus Aldridge injured, they remain a team of very long defenders, and they bothered the Clippers 3 guard lineup throughout this contest. Chris Paul struggled mightily for much of this game, and Wes Matthews in particular did a great job of staing in front of Paul, who was clearly frustrated by his own play (0/6 in the first half) as well as the inability of his team mates to knock down shots. The Clippers were shooting 33% at the half, and were 0 for 7 from beyond the arc. Contrast that with a 4 of 10 performance from downtown by Portland (and 46% overall), and the Clippers found themselves down by double digits in the second quarter. The Clippers only managed 32 points in the half, but were able to cut the lead to just 11 at the break.
The start of the 3rd quarter did not magically make things better for the Clippers, they opened the quarter looking just as flat, and things started to get ugly. The Clippers found themselves down by as many as 18, and it seemed as though the game was turning into a throw away. The third game in four nights for the Clippers, in a very tough arena to get a win, would perhaps be too much. But about halfway through the 3rd, the Clipper defense began to pick up, and they were able to get some scores too, cutting the lead to just 8 heading into the final period.
To begin the fourth quarter, Chris Paul was yet to score, and the Clippers were yet to hit a 3. Anyone who has watched this team play this year knows that that is a recipe for disaster. There is a direct correlation to Chris Paul scoring and Clipper Victories, and the Clippers have definitely been dependent on making threes to win games. In the past, this was the type of games the Clippers would never win. That 18 point lead would turn into 25, with the team deflated after yet another ill advised Jamal Crawford jumper inexplicably dropped through the net. But not this year. There is an understanding among these players that they have the talent to get stops, get scores, and pull out these improbable wins. A Chris Paul steal and score would cut the lead to two. Shortly after, a Mo Williams transition three (the first of the night for the Clips) gave the Clips the lead. This was followed up by a Chris Paul 3, capping a 12-2 run and breaking the back of the Blazers. Chris Paul had 13 points (all in the fourth) and showed once again why he is a superstar. He refused to let the Clippers lose this game, and bounced back from a miserable performance through 3 quarters. His presence on this roster is absolutely invaluable. Numbers don't always tell the whole story, Chris Paul should definitely be a candidate for MVP.
The Clippers had no business winning that game, but pulled it out. Ugly as it was, it's a great win for this club, and the country should take notice. The Clippers are the real deal.
Post game thoughts:
Free Throws. After shooting just 3 in the first half, the Clippers wound up shooting 19 free throws. They made just 12, but luckily Portland shot just about the same, going 11/18. The Clippers payed more aggressive in the second half and it paid off. Another good sign- Blake was 3-4 tonight, and the release looked much more fluid and natural.
Randy Foye and the 2 guard spot: Randy was just 3-12 tonight and did not shoot a free throw. I really like Foye, and I think hes a very capable basketball player, but he has got to be more productive for this club. He missed a number of open looks again tonight and had some bad forced shots as well. JR SMITH...New York? Really? It's not too late...