How important was tonight's game? With a tough loss last night against the
hated heavily-disliked LA Lakers and a string of games coming up against elite Western Conference competition the LA Clippers badly needed a soft spot in the schedule. Okay. Here you go, the Sacramento Kings, twice, a team that's won only nineteen games this year. Clips should be able to handle them pretty well, right? Not so fast. As the mighty Steve Perrin noted earlier today, the Kings have played well of late and have some nice pieces in DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and rookie Isaiah Thomas.
The Clippers came out pretty strong in the first quarter and built a lead of fourteen by the middle of the second quarter, mostly behind Eric Bledsoe's frantic 11 points. Unfortunately the Kings didn't quit and managed to close it to two with a minute to play in the half. But the Clips came back and the half closed with the Clips up by six. Nothing great, but certainly not bad. The last time the Clips played the Kings the game was pretty even, then stepped on the throttle late in the third. This is the Clippers, after all, and hope springs eternal.
But this wasn't going to be an easy night. Despite the fact that Cousins, lately the Kings best player, was sitting on the bench in foul trouble, the Kings stuck around through the third and managed to grab the lead at 72-71 early in the fourth... and the Clippers found themselves in a dogfight. When Jimmer Fredette (up til this point, a complete non-factor) and Isaiah Thomas made a pair of threes, the Kings were in the lead by four with four minutes to play. Oh my goodness.
But now, with Chris Paul having an off night, Blake Griffin finally found his form (he scored only four in the first half). Jump shot, baby hook, Randy Foye grabs a rebound makes a touchdown pass to Griffin who gets fouled and makes another jumper off the inbound. Clips go up by three with two minutes on the clock.
But still, it wasn't over. Cousins, back in the game only briefly, takes an entry pass in iso and bullies his way inside. Chris Paul drives and scores, Tyreke Evans makes two free throws and the Clips are up by one with eighteen seconds left. And the fouling begins...
With DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin banished to the bench, the Kings foul Randy Foye, who makes both. Cousins turns the ball over, the Kings have to foul Foye again, Foye bags the pair, and the game is mercifully, over.
I don't want to give anyone the wrong idea about this. In my opinion this was a trap game. If you expected the Clips to win by double-digits you were wrong. The Kings were in their home arena, and wanted this game badly. The Clips took it from them... an important road win with a tough schedule on the way.
- Free throw shooting. Okay, I'm not talking about anyone other than Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They've been terrible, particularly Griffin. It's my opinion that the Clippers win the Lakers game if they do better at the line
, and it might not have been close, had Blake made his free throws(The Clips were 13-20 overall, Blake was 1-3 7-16against the Lakers, 0-4 against the Kings). When Griffin and Jordan are afraid to go to the line, I think it changes the way they play... much for the worse.
- Blake Griffin had a tough night last night against the Lakers. Despite the double-Pau-Gasol-posterization, Gasol kept Griffin carefully under control. Tonight? DeMarcus Cousins. Blake scores only four points in the first half. But it's a lot weirder, Cousins, the Kings massive man-child, seems to come into the game ready for a fight. I guess he was watching Sportscenter last night and felt sorry for Pau Gasol. Fortunately, (for everyone, perhaps) Cousins picks up a few quick fouls and claimed a seat on the bench for most of the game (he wound up fouling out late in the fourth). Of course Griffin recovered himself, scored six late in the fourth to put the Clips ahead for good. He finished 14-9 and played the entire second half.
- Eric Bledsoe. He's still a wild card, you're not quite sure what you're going to get when he checks in but Bledsoe seems to be getting into a groove. To my eyes he's becoming one of the Clips most reliable defenders, and he definitely changes the game tempo. If he can hit a jumper and control his turnovers he becomes invaluable. He had eleven in the second quarter to help the Clips to a big lead. He finished with 13, 1a, 2TO in around 17 minutes.
- Reggie Evans didn't play against the Lakers last night played around ten minutes tonight, all in the first half (he grabbed six boards and was plus 7). I know Evans is too small to play center against Andrew Bynum, but the alternative was DeAndre Jordan (who was getting killed) or Kenyon Martin who is WAY too small to play Bynum. I'm not sure why Vinny Del Negro chose to hold out Evans last night.
- Isaiah Thomas and Chris Paul. The two smallest players on the court battled like welterweights the whole night, diving on the floor, flying to the hole. Thomas was a steal as the 60th pick in the draft. Paul had an off game with 13 points, 8 assistts, 5 steals, but 5 turnovers. Thomas had 17 points but only 1 assist.
- The other guys: Randy Foye had twenty, Caron Butler had 14. Nice performances from both the Clips vets. These two guys might be the x-factor in the Clippers last string of games AND the Clips performance in the playoffs. Foye coolly made four free throws in the last eighteen seconds to ice the game.
Anyway, we're hardly done with Sacramento. Like a bad dog, they follow the Clips back home to LA to play again on Saturday.