The Clippers Began their 8 game Grammy road trip Wed night at the Target Center, taking on the injury plagued and reeling Timberwolves, losers in 9 of their last 10 games. Clipper fans know from experience this season that down on their luck teams are not to be taken for granted (See Cleveland, Orlando, New Orleans). Minnesota would be no different tonight, and gave the Clippers one heck of a fight before ultimately coming up short, 96-90. Check out the Box score here
Minnesota is an interesting team to match up against in their current state. As noted above, the Twolves have a lot of injuries, but 4 productive point guards on the roster in Luke Ridnour, JJ Barrea, Ricky Rubio, and rookie Alexey Shved. Coach Rick Adelman elected to play 2 of these point guards together for the entire game, and Minnesota looked to play a lot of drive and dish basketball with all those ball handlers on the court. In addition to the 2 point guard combo, Minnesota primarily played Big man Nikola Pekovic (who is a real handful on the low block, and finished with 17 points, leading all Minnesota players) along with Andrei Kirilenko and Dante Cunningham.
Minnesota came out of the gates with intensity, scoring 6 unanswered points. The Clippers looked out of sync early, with very little ball movement, and a lot of late in the shot clock attempts. They were able to settle down a bit thanks to Blake Griffin, for whom the T'Wolves had no answer (Derrick Williams, who started the game on Griffin, ended up playing just 12 minutes in this one). Griffin had 10 first quarter points, but the Clippers found themselves down 25-23 heading into the second quarter. And then things got interesting.
The Clippers looked completely out of sync in the 2nd quarter, and were getting beat to the majority of loose balls and 50-50 balls. But the Clippers got a bit of a spark after an altercation between Matt Barnes and Minnesota center Greg Stiemsma,a former Celtic and owner of the NBA's strangest last name. Matt Barnes ran into a Stiemsma pick above the top of the arc, and when Stiemsma's hands came up near Barnes' head, Barnes took exception and, well he went Matt Barnes, throwing a forearm towards Stiemsma's chin. Barnes was ejected following a review of the play. It looks at first glance like Barnes may have lost it a bit too quickly (and he certainly overreacted in any case), but if you watch the possession from the beginning, you will see that it was actually the second pick Steimsma set on Barnes, and his hands coming up inexplicably towards Barnes face on that screen too. Again, not that Barnes should have reacted the way he did, but it was definitely not as quick of a reaction as it may have seemed.
So craziness over right? Wrong. Just a few minutes later, a hard foul by Stiemsma on Grant Hill beneath the Minnesota basket on a rebound sent Hill to the floor hard, and the Clippers, led by Caron Butler and to a lesser extent Ronny Turiaf, came to the defense of their team mate, with Butler spinning Stiemsma behind, gripping his jersey, and raising his elbow and forearm into Stiemsma's neck in a rather menacing fashion, before officials and teammates intervened, separating the two. I was quite convinced that Butler would be ejected as well after the exchange, but luckily for the Clippers (and Stiemsma quite frankly) Caron did not extend the forearm or punch/strike. The officials reviewed, gave a Flagrant 1 to Stiemsma, and a pair of technicals to Butler and Turiaf. So for those of you keeping score, that's one ejected small forward (2 free throws for Minnesota) two technical fouls resulting in two more free throws, and for good measure, the Clippers had 3 defensive three second violations in the first half, tacking on three more free throws. Not the best way to get the road trip started.
After all had settled, the Clippers found their way towards the end of the first half. Down by 11, the Clippers had a 3 pointer by Crawford, followed by three free throws by Crawford, and a converted 3 point play by Deandre Jordan. After a lone made free throw by Minnesota, Blake Griffin had an old fashioned three point play, and, a few minutes later a three point buzzer-beater by Caron Butler gave the Clippers a 52-48 lead at the half. The Clips carried the momentum they had taken into the third quarter, pushing the lead to 11. But The Wolves quickly answered with a 9-0 run, and would hang around for the remainder of the game, even taking the lead late into the 4th quarter.
The Clippers played a strange game tonight, particularly late. Through the first three quarters, I fully expected the Clips to switch to a zone defense (at least in stretches), and take advantage of the Timberwolves, who are dead last in the NBA in three point shooting, but it never happened. And that didn't change in the 4th quarter either. Blake Griffin, who had his way with the Timberwolves in the first 36 minutes, did not attempt a shot in the 4th quarter until the final minute. The Clippers were carried in that time by Caron Butler (who had a great night shooting the ball) and Jamal Crawford. It ultimately worked out, but I can't help but feel that the Clippers made this victory a little tougher than it had to be.
All that said, a win is a win, as they say. The Clippers and their fans cant wait for Chris Paul to get healthy, and with a bit of luck they will get him AND Chauncey Billups back soon, possibly even on this road trip. For the Clippers, getting Billups back would be icing on an already delicious cake, but I see no reason to rush him back at all, and it seems like Clippers management feels the same way. The road trip continues Friday night in Toronto, where they will likely be met by the Toronto Raptors and the newly acquired Rudy Gay. Should be a good one.
Check out the Minnesota Perspective at Canis Hoopus.
Eric Bledsoe. Up and down game by Bledsoe, who made some great plays (including an electrifying block to stop a Minnesota fast break where he was the only Clipper back). Bled shot just 3-14 and had 5 turnovers tonight. Bledsoe is capable of playing better, and needs to while Paul is out.
DJ- Deandre had a solid game tonight, finishing with 16 points. He was 4-10 from the free throw line, but made a couple of key ones late.
Caron Butler- Butler was big tonight, bailing out the Clippers on several possessions en route to 19 points. Good to see Tough Juice put the ball in the cup tonight. Hopefully it will give him some confidence going forward.