Early drama? Check. Early defensive lapses? Check. Early deficit to inferior team? Check. Ultimate blowout? Check, with a bullet.
Playing in their eighth city in 13 nights, perhaps the Clippers were fooled into thinking their road trip was not over. In what is fast becoming a pattern, early frustration gave way to stellar play and the Clippers accelerated past and way beyond their overmatched opponents.
The young Timberwolves' bedtime must be around 8:00 PM (10:00 PM CST, natch), because they tuckered out early in the second quarter after scrapping their way to a surprising 37-33 lead. The more mature Clippers proceeded to outscore them 68-31, reaching 100 and invoking Lawler's Law by the end of quarter three, sending the fans home and this writer to his computer ahead of schedule and allowing all to meet their own respective bedtimes.
To put a blunt point on it, this Minnesota squad can't defend. They have a uniquely terrible ability to give their opponent quality looks at the rim and the three-point arc simultaneously. The Clippers shot 51% from the field, 44% on threes, and got any and every shot they wished for.
Flip Saunders deployed his charges in a zone defense from the outset, and it was a spectacular miscalculation. In little more than the four minutes following the opening tip, his Wolves surrendered a dunk, a layup, and two three-pointers, as well as a couple other midrange baskets. J.J. Redick was the primary beneficiary of the Wolves' generosity, opening the game a perfect four for four for 12 points. He finished tied with Blake Griffin for the game high with 23, eight of which came on a pair of 4-point plays.
The Wolves actually impressed in their first quarter offensive sets, showing a precocious ability for passing and cutting. Their play from the high post and in the center of the court was particularly sharp, and they used their smart interior passing to great success against a hyperactive Clipper defense.
You can't accuse the Clippers of coming out flat, but you can certainly criticize them for misusing their energy. Much of their early defense was played aimlessly, and they lunged and jumped their way out of position, opening alleys through which the Timberwolves sprinted to the basket.
Spencer Hawes combined 8 second quarter points with the solid defensive work of his benchmates to render all of the early handwringing for naught. Once the Clippers settled into a more disciplined approach, they walled off the paint and essentially ended this game. This season, Minnesota has found survival only by relentlessly attacking the basket. With that option taken away, the Wolves (mis)fired away. I noticed that the Wolves compiled an unusual number of airballs, and apparently, so did others.
Timberwolves have shot like seven airballs so far.— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) December 2, 2014
I don’t know what the record is for team airballs in a game, but the Wolves have to be coming close to it.— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) December 2, 2014
Canis Hoopus' Eric in Madison was envious that the citizens of Clips Nation were blessed with a competent shooting team, and the Wolves didn't make him look like a liar. Minnesota converted just two of their 12 three-point attempts, following last night's two for nine stinkbomb.
During the game broadcast, it was noted that the Clippers managed the highest average margin of victory for a road trip of at least seven games in NBA history. Fittingly, this was a Clipper victory as it should have been, a decisive win over a depleted and inexperienced young club, and the team's early-season inability to muster a killer instinct appears to have been vanquished. On Wednesday night, the Clippers will have the opportunity to continue the trend as they face a frisky but harmless 7-12 Orlando Magic team.
Some other (mostly serious) things I noticed:
- Blake Griffin's defense has been atrocious. He's the worst defender in the starting unit, and no, I haven't forgotten about Matt Barnes. Look, before you jump all over me, I do realize that he doesn't look completely healthy or in shape, as I've remarked many times. But, that doesn't excuse his positioning, which falls somewhere between "clueless" and "apathetic". On almost every bad Clipper defensive possession, look for Blake and you'll find him in no-man's land, somewhere between his own man and the man he's helping, only too far away from both to affect either. If he's going to help, then he needs to help and race back, or else he should just stay put. In trying to guard two men he's guarding none, and it's a major reason why the Clippers are allowing so many early baskets in the paint. Well, that and DeAndre's inveterate desire to swat away every jump shot, even half court ones, but that's a topic for another day.
- Andrew Wiggins has "wow" potential. He just looks the part of a star wing, with length, quickness, and big-time bounce. Offensively, his most unique ability may be that he can use his wingspan and elevation to get his shot off against anyone. That's a rare gift, rarer than it's credited to be, but the teenager is still so far away from figuring out how to use it to even moderate effect. He won't be Kevin Durant, but if he plays defense, and so far he's at least shown a willingness to, then he probably won't be Nick Young either. But, I haven't the slightest idea where on the wide spectrum between those two he'll end up, and I suspect that the answer will go a long way in determining how quickly Minnesota can return to playoff contention.
- I saw this early in the season, but I'll mention it here since there's so little else to discuss about this one-sided game. For the past few seasons, the Clippers' front office has gradually increased the presence of blue in the Clipper color palette, most prominently in the blue wordmark at centercourt and on the players' chests. However, the logo used in local television broadcasts appears to be that same wordmark rendered in red, a new addition for this year. For one, the old "Clippers in flying ball" logo appears to be on its way out. That's good, because its little more than a poorly executed knockoff of the Lakers' logo. But perhaps more interestingly, at least to the aesthetically obsessed sports fan, it may signal that Steve Ballmer or someone else in the organization is pushing for a return to more red, maybe even in the jerseys. Something to watch for? Only if you care.