Fans — particularly those jonesing for a win — are often inclined to overvalue a W against an inferior opponent. But sometimes there’s a counter-tendency among cynics to discount the victory because it’s a cheap win. Yes, OKC is a sloppy team, but the Clips make some real strides tonight. And every little bit counts.
Any discussion of the Clippers’ performance should start with Chris Kaman [25 points, 11-13 FG, 3-3 FT, 14 REB [2/12], 6 AST, 4 BLK, 1 TURN]. Charting Chris’ improvement is always tricky, because it’s not as if the guy ever struggles to establish position on the box. Chris is assertive in setting up down low, and he generally gets the ball where he wants it. So you don’t need a clinical breakdown to demonstrate his offensive woes. With Chris, it’s far simpler than that: When he’s struggling, it’s because he’s not finishing.
The upward trajectory for Chris began in that Friday night game a couple weeks back against Houston. Tonight, he displays the full sweep of that progress. His first layup is tipped by Jeff Green. About 30 seconds later, he slips underneath Robert Swift, gets a good lob pass from Baron Davis, and slams it home. Chris’ first three makes of the game are dunks — no finesse, no futzing, no extra dribbles or pivots…just a flush. Of the other 8 FGMs, another is a dunk, six are layups [including one whirling right-handed reverse], and the other is that fluid, face-up 15 footer he’s been nailing with consistency.
What’s the difference? Chris is doing a better job of passing out when he knows he’s liable to get into trouble. It’s a great life skill — knowing one’s limitations. It’s a particularly good life skill when you’re an NBA center. Tonight, it’s as if Chris is able to say to himself, “this isn’t going to end well” in those instances when it’s apparent to everyone he’s going to cough up the ball or overwork his shot. His defense — against, admittedly, a challenged front line — continues to be solid, particularly bodying up on the block.
Marcus Camby turns in a Marcus Camby kind of game. Nick Collison isn’t the most difficult of assignments, and this allows Marcus to rove, which is what he prefers to do and what he does effectively. This is in stark contrast to Houston, whose big men demand constant attention. Camby is still struggling with his shot outside of the paint, but he converts 7 FGMs tonight on 11 attempts.
Al has his best game in a while, particularly on the boards. It’s somewhat of a gamble against a running team like OKC to crash the offensive glass as aggressively as Al does tonight, because Al is one of those guys you need on transition defense, because he’s quick, long, and agile. But tonight, it pays off. He does some nice things offensively, but it’s worth highlighting something we should see more of from Al.
At the 6:34 mark of the 1st, Al gets the ball in transition down the right sideline. The numbers have dissipated for the Clips [it’s now effectively 2-on-3], but Al still has a head of steam and only a backtracking Jeff Green on his heels and Johan Petro between him and the basket. Rather than trying to sidestep Petro for a tough shot — because it would be a tough finish — Al instead draws contact, squares up, still gets off a good attempt, and earns a trip to the stripe. Al averages 4.2 FTA/game. That’s not horrendous, but you’d like to see that number closer to the mid-5s for a slasher of his caliber. Tonight, though, Al brings his whole game and seems seriously focused. No turnovers, either, on a whole lotta touches.
Cuttino Mobley gets the unenviable assignment of Kevin Durant, but does yeoman’s work on him. Durant manages to get off only 15 shots off from the field, tying his season low. Cat’s best work isn’t necessarily the on-ball coverage — Durant shoots 50%…though Cat gives up five inches — but in denying Durant the space to receive the ball, and in forcing Durant to pass-out. It also warrants mentioning that Ricky Davis, despite his incapacity to do much of anything else, does some solid work on Durant during a stretch in the second quarter. In addition to his defense, Mobley has put together some freaky offensive spurts in the third quarter recently — falling fadeaways and fearless, hard drives through the heart of the lane.
Baron Davis has another rough shooting night, but his shot selection, defensive game, effectiveness at the point, and general mood are all better. You can also credit him for a good deal of Kaman’s night. He delivers Chris two beautiful lob passes underneath Swift for easy layups — one at 8:34 mark of the 1st, and an almost identical play at the 9:45 mark of the 3rd. There’s also a perfectly executed Side S/R with Chris at 6:52 in the second. Baron is completely amped to go up against two of his UCLA successors — Earl Watson [still the best defensive PG in the game], and Russell Westbrook [no slouch and one of the better defenders of the rookie class]. Baron racks up four steals, and plays snarling defense on the ball, never once taking a play off.
The bench goes 5-26 FG, and 1-2 FT, so the less said about that, the better. In theory, Eric Gordon should be getting more than 6 minutes against a team like Oklahoma City, but I don’t know that Mike Dunleavy has that defensive luxury against a matchup nightmare like Kevin Durant. Mobley was the call, and the right one.