Teams playing on the second night of a road back-to-back usually tire as the game progresses. Seems like Charlotte Coach Steve Clifford forgot to tell his Hornets.
One night after being smoked by the Utah Jazz, the Hornets scrapped away a 22-point deficit, but came up just shy of stealing a win they had no business being near.
This was a game, then it wasn't a game, and then it was a game again. The Clippers missed a handful of good early looks to let the visitors stay close for the first 10 minutes before running out to a 59-41 halftime lead and what looked like a second straight shellacking for the Hornets. Blake Griffin scored 15 points on a variety of shots en route to 19 for the game, looking immediately comfortable within the offense. (Who said it would take time to reintegrate him?! I said it?!? Expunge that from the archives.)
The turnover was the major plot device tonight, creating sustained runs for each team and swinging the score to and fro. The Clippers forced Charlotte and its two shoot-first point guards into nine first-half turnovers, giving up just four of their own. Then, it was the Hornets' turn in the second half, which brings us back to their energy.
Specifically, they didn't seem to have any in the second quarter. In fact, I would venture to say they looked disheartened and defeated by their offensive struggles. But they had it in spades in the third and fourth, using it to fuel a frenetic defense that harassed the Clippers into eight second-half turnovers, seven of which came in the crucial third quarter. The Hornets won that frame 33-18 to erase the lead and deprive the Clipper starters of the extra rest they surely hoped to get.
Charlotte used a balanced attack, getting double-digit scoring from six players. Al Jefferson led the team with 21, Mo Williams maintained his run of good form with 18, and Kemba Walker chipped in 15 off the bench. They're not a squad that can shoot to score, but with their athleticism and tenacity they can get inside, and tonight, they earned 29 free throws.
In fact, most of the free throws tonight seemed well earned, by both clubs, as the referees allowed lots of heavy contact. This game slogged at times as each side replaced rim protection with body checking. There was more grabbing and holding than an eighth-grade dance. The Clippers had 28 of their own chances at the line, augmented by two minutes of Hack-A-DJ that further deflated a crowd that spent most of the game at preseason level.
J.J. Redick had plenty of energy, running around for a team-high 23 points. Chris Paul added 21 and made four of seven attempts from deep, and his home team found just enough to beat back the Hornets. A win is a win, and this win brought the Clippers into a tie with Dallas for the fifth seed in the Western Conference Playoff race, with 14 games still to go.
Some other (mostly serious) things I noticed:
- I wrote about it in the preview, Ralph Lawler mentioned it during the broadcast, and it deserves mentioning again: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hasn't attempted a three-pointer ALL SEASON. When was the last time a small forward did that? Was it 1978, before the NBA even adopted the three-point line? Seriously, I'm a big, big MKG fan. Read this excellent SI piece by Lee Jenkins on Kidd-Gilchrist's work to improve his shooting and his stutter -- I sent it to my mom and now she's a fan, too. Kidd-Gilchrist has come a long way from the broken jump shot he had at Kentucky, but I can't imagine he'll be hurt by hoisting the occasional three. (Even DeAndre has tried four this season.) The Clippers flat ignored him on the perimeter, and rightly so. When he catches the ball on the wing, he never considers shooting, and often dribbles himself into congestion and trouble. Come on, Kidd-Gilchrist, put one up.
- Nate Robinson played most of the fourth quarter with the starters, highlighting the Clippers' dire lack of wing depth. It made some sense against Charlotte's dual point guards, but looked silly after the Hornets returned to their more traditionally-sized starting lineup. (And Nate played well tonight, scoring 12 and defending gamely.) Even with Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford out, it's a poor indicator of the club's construction that Doc Rivers didn't have an option preferable to playing two sub-six-foot players simultaneously. (I don't care how he's listed, Chris Paul is not six feet.) If only Doc had used either of his last two first round draft choices on perimeter help...