The Clippers scrapped a win together without three starters tonight, using the combined efforts of the team as a whole to make up for lack of star power. The Clippers trailed by as many as 13, and were down almost the entire game. They pulled ahead with 3 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, and never looked back, shutting down the Raptors and making clutch plays when needed. The 1st quarter was one to forget, with the Raptors scoring at will and the Clippers looking discombobulated on offense. The second quarter saw them surging back behind a strong performance from the bench, notably Montrezl Harrell. Harrell just ate up poor Raptors’ big man Jakob Poeltl, who couldn’t control him on the offensive glass or around the basket. Without Harrell’s 12 points in the quarter, the game may have slipped away. Instead, the Clippers continued to hang around even after Harrell checked out. Their defense picked up, but they were also the beneficiary of a bunch of missed Raptors’ shots.
The second half continued in much the same way. The Clippers couldn’t pull out in front, yet the Raptors were also unable to generate any distance, and seemed completely out of rhythm. The bench once again brought a lot of energy, particularly Jawun Evans, Sindarius Thornwell, and Harrell. There was a scary moment when Harrell came down hard on his knee and rolled around in pain, but he was up a couple minutes later, and played for a bit longer before sitting. Doc interestingly went with Sam Dekker at power forward down the stretch (he’d played well all night), and this paid off, as Dekker made some nice passes, grabbed rebounds, and generally did good things outside of missing jumpshots. The end of the game was largely controlled by DeAndre Jordan, who simply couldn’t be stopped on the offensive glass. He had a crucial tip-in on a Lou Williams miss, and his volleyball tap out on the missed free throw by Dekker in the waning seconds sealed the game for the Clips.
· Milos Returns: Milos Teodosic made his long-awaited comeback tonight in exciting fashion, scoring 12 points, nailing a clutch three, and amping up the team with some ferocious celebrations. He didn’t have an assist, shockingly, though that was mostly just due to teammates missing shots. It was everything Clippers’ fans could have hoped for in his return: the ball was zinging around noticeably more than usual, the team was playing at a faster pace, and Milos himself looked reasonably in shape (he played 21 minutes). The Clippers shot the ball horribly tonight, and Milos himself was part of that (4-12 overall, 2-9 from three), but the offense just looked better tonight, and a lot of that credit can probably go to Milos. As he gets further integrated into the rotation, it will be interesting to see who loses minutes to him. Because he will deserve at least 30 a night when he’s back with legs fully under him.
· Sam Dekker Re-Emerges: One game after not playing when Gallinari made his return, Dekker was a crucial figure in tonight’s win, playing 27 minutes, including the last 8 down the stretch. He continues to misfire on jumpers, but his cutting to the basket is very nice, and he was strong on the defensive glass tonight as well. He may have just retaken his rotation spot from Jamil Wilson, though it will be tough to play him if his shots don’t start falling. It was a great game from him though, and the exact kind of effort the Clippers need: energy, low-usage, and doing small things.
· Harrell Is a Beast: Montrezl has firmly cemented himself as the Clippers’ backup center over Willie Reed. He is explosive around the basket on both ends, and provides a ton of energy. He kept the Clippers afloat in the 2nd half, and his post game is a legitimate weapon against smaller or weaker defenders. Sometimes he can get outmatched size-wise, but he’s earned minutes even against bigger players. Harrell has been the backbone of the Clippers’ improved second unit over the past few games (Lou Williams is obviously the motor), and is just fun to watch.
· Austin and Lou are Quiet: Both guards played well overall, they just weren’t as explosive as fans have come to expect in recent weeks. It’s a fantastic sign that the Clippers were able to win a game without massive performances from one or both scoring guards: they can do so with wins and balanced efforts from up and down the roster. The Clippers won’t win much if Lou and Austin shoot as poorly as they did tonight, but that seems unlikely. They can’t rely on those two players to carry the team night after night, and tonight was a sign that they hopefully won’t need to.
· Gallo Out with Injury: Right now it isn’t clear what happened to Gallo, only that he sat the game with an injury in the same area he had before: a contusion in his left glute. It’s probable that he aggravated the injury, which is a really bad sign. Missing a contest after just one game back is not what the Clippers need. With any luck he will be back soon.
· Doc Goes Deep: Doc played 11 guys tonight, which probably isn’t something that will work long-term. Players generally like set rotations with a decent chunk of minutes so they can get into rhythm, and having 11 players in the rotation is a bit choppy. When Gallinari returns one of either Wilson or Dekker will leave the rotation (probably Wilson after tonight), and as Teodosic recovers it’s possible CJ Williams or Jawun Evans loses their spot as well. It will be interesting to see who Doc goes with as the Clippers continue to get healthy.
· Clippers 10th in Standings: The Clippers, at 10-15, are somehow in 10th place in the West (admittedly tied with the Lakers), and are only two games back of the 8th spot. The Thunder are flailing, and the Jazz, Pelicans, and Blazers have all been very inconsistent. The Clippers have a chance to make a push into the playoff picture as they start to round into shape (please no more injuries), though they are embarking on a four game road trip. They need to win their next game at Orlando, and then split the Heat-Wizards back to back. The final stop is in San Antonio, which will be a rough game. If the Clippers come out of that stretch 2-2, and with Gallinari and Teodosic healthy, they could be in position to make a run going into the holidays.
This was a fun one tonight. Go Clippers!