Even though the Clips can’t get the Hornets’ lead down to much closer than five points for most of the second half, this isn’t a painful game to watch. Most of the Clippers’ problems stem from their inability to finish around the basket. Mike Taylor misses three FGAs from 0 feet; Baron Davis misses three; Al Thornton misses two; Eric Gordon misses two; Chris Kaman misses two; Brian Skinner misses one; Marcus Camby misses one. That’s 14 missed FGAs from 0 feet. What does that mean? The Clippers are working themselves a bunch of easy shots…and the Clippers need to relax a little. What’s that Woodenism? “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
In contrast, New Orleans hits some impossible shots — ungodly fallaway jumpers from David West, crazy off-balanced runners from Peja Stojakovic. The whirling dervishings of Chris Paul [I’m introducing dervishing as a neologism solely for the purpose of describing Chris Paul]. Objectively, is there anyone you’d rather watch play basketball than Chris Paul c. 2008?
So despite New Orleans’ 49% night from the field, the Clippers’ defensive effort is something more akin to a 44% effort from the floor by an opponent. The Clips give up very little early offense, defend the S/R pretty skillfully, and force the Hornets into some difficult shots.
What hurts the Clippers the most on the defensive end tonight is David West against Marcus Camby. After missing his first FGA of the third quarter, he nails five shots in a row from the field. At [3rd, 7;13], he easily beats Camby on a simple right-handed dribble drive from about 10 feet that he finishes with an easy reverse layup. About a minute and a half later at [3rd, 5:52], West takes advantage of an aggressive Camby close-out on his shot fake by breezing past him with a hard left-handed dribble-drive through the lane. He punctuates the finish with a vicious slam. A minute later at [3rd, 4:49], West hesitates against Camby at the foul line, but then bursts ahead with hard dribble with his left. West then transfers the ball to his right for a Vince Carter-like layup off the glass. At [3rd, 3:08] West and Paul work the side screen-roll to perfection off the left elbow. It’s pretty: Earlier in the set, Paul gets a rock-solid screen at the top of the circle from Tyson Chandler, which nets Paul Al Thornton off the switch. On the West S/R, Thornton and Camby double up on Paul as he explodes into the lane. If you’re Thornton, you have to take West on the switch here. Paul is dangerous, but Kaman is stepping up to challenge, and David West is too dangerous and too hot to leave him. But that’s what happens. How many wide open shots from 12 feet does David West miss in a month? Finally at [3rd, 0:53], he steps back off Chris Kaman at the right elbow and drains a 15-footer.
Eric Gordon has his best night as a professional. 9-18 from the floor, 4-8 from beyond the arc, 3-4 from the line, 4 steals, a couple of turns. He gets his first two 3PMs of the night within the span of a minute in the 2nd quarter. Both come from Chris Kaman, who passes out of double-teams to find Gordon on the arc. In general, Chris is becoming much better at passing out of the double-team. He’s no Tim Duncan by any stretch, but he’s developed a certain level of proficiency.
What I like even more from Eric than those two open three-point shots is what he does at [2nd, 2:54]. This time, he’s covered tightly by Stojakovic on the arc. Instead of heaving up a contested shot, he holds the ball, then takes a little jab step to get Peja a little bit off-balanced. This allows EJ to take a dribble into about 19 and, with enough separation, get off a quick-release jumper that falls through. Grown-up move. He makes a similar decision a couple minutes later in the closing minute of the half [2nd, 0:35]. On an inbound play underneath the Clippers’ basket, EJ curls around the top of the circle to get free in the left corner. Posey trails him. He manages to catch up to Gordon, but Posey’s momentum is enough that Gordon decides to hold off on the shot long enough to take a little left-handed dribble to his right to get himself more space. He gets that open look from 19 feet, and sinks it. Patience as a shooter pays off. It’s the difference between a 35-40% night and a 50% night.
Tonight represents the top of EJ’s range as a player right now, so there’s a temptation to paint the performance with warm colors. That being the case, I think Dunleavy’s best move is to leave him out there for 30+ minutes a night. He’ll likely develop a steep learning curve on the defensive end. Though there might be nights he kills you offensively, it’s better to take the hits now at 2-12.
Not like any other reasonable candidates exist to claim those minutes.