The Clippers lead 106-102 with :25.1 seconds remaining — theoretically a two-possession game. Eric Gordon has played a gritty defensive second half. But on a dribble-handoff from Derrick Rose to Ben Gordon up high, EJ gets caught on a Drew Gooden screen as B. Gordon sweeps right along the arc. EJ manages to fight over the screen, but hacks Ben Gordon from behind as the Bulls guard launches a wild, off-balanced, I-can’t-believe-he-hit-that, 3PM. B. Gordon converts a 4-point play to tie the game.
The consolation: The Clippers have possession with 0:20.5 remaining in regulation. Their offense is humming. They’ve scored on their last six possessions, running the offense through Zach Randolph on the block. EJ inbounds the ball to Baron Davis up top. BD milks some clock with Derrick Rose in front of him. At 0:09.5, Baron dumps it into Al Thornton way, way, way out on the right wing — about 20 feet from the basket — despite the fact that Thornton v. Deng is the least advantageous one-on-one matchup on the floor for the Clips. Deng deftly anticipates Al’s first move — a deliberate step toward the baseline — and easily cuts off Al’s drive with that lanky frame. Al has to resort to a fall-away 20-footer that rattles in and out. Overtime.
The Clippers wisely return to Randolph at the outset of the overtime period.
- At [OT, 4:44], they dump it into Zach just off the right block. With a little hesitation, Randolph is able to get Drew Gooden on his heels just long enough to get a good look at a face-up 18 footer that’s true.
- After a traveling violation on a nonetheless smart set into Randolph on the left side, the Clippers go to him yet again on the third possession [OT, 3:39], this time at the right post. BD and Zach work the two-man game, hoping to get a good look for either/or. Randolph ultimately takes charge. He spins left, goes up for a left-handed hook over his right shoulder and draws the foul. Zach sinks one of two from the line…and the Clippers never score again.
- They continue to pound the ball into Randolph, but it’s become predictable. Nocioni effectively fronts him on the next possession. By the time Randolph gets himself the space he needs, the shot clock has wound down. Randolph promptly gets doubled, and a futile pass to Thornton never results in a shot.
- Undeterred, Baron and Randolph work that two-man game on the right side again. To their credit, they’re patient. This time, the ball ends up in Baron’s hands for a 3PA. Though it’s a fairly open look, Baron isn’t fully set and it costs him. Camby collects his 26th rebound, so the Clips get another chance. Again, they go into Randolph on the right block against Nocioni. When he gets doubled…almost triple-teamed, Zach wisely passes out to Thornton on the perimeter. Whether he’s applying more care, paying more attention, or just matured, Zach Randolph has been more effective passing out of the post than in previous seasons. I stand corrected. Mea Culpa. Thornton offers up a little ball fake, which fools Luol Deng. As he reaches the rim, he bowls over Nocioni. Though the initial call is a blocking foul, the officials reverse it to a charge. Guess what? It was a charge. Nocioni is the most egregious flopper in the league, and though it pains me to write it, this one is legit — as is the charge a minute later on Randolph.
Derrick Rose’s sensational crossup of Mardy Collins for a left-handed layup [and the foul] deflates the Clippers. Any final hope to close a four-point deficit inside of a minute is blunted by an errant entry pass from Eric Gordon intended for Randolph. The rookie has another stellar offensive performance. He compiles a true shooting percentage of 73%, which makes his two pivotal mistakes all the more painful.
Eric Gordon isn’t the only Jekyll & Hyde story for the Clippers. Though it might be unseemly to diminish Marcus Camby’s 19 point and 27 rebound performance, his man-to-man defensive effort is a repeat of Luis Scola Night. Camby cedes everything beyond 12 feet to a power forward in Drew Gooden who can drain shots from 17 with regularity. And Camby’s negligence outside the paint isn’t merely a first quarter issue, when Gooden does most of his damage. There’s a crucial Chicago possession at [4th, 4:55] with the Clips leading by four when Camby’s defensive assignment is Nocioni. Ben Gordon and Nocioni run a high S/R on the near side perimeter against EJ/Camby. Nocioni glides to his right off the screen along the arc. What does Camby do? He backs off about five feet to the right elbow [anticipating the Gordon dribble-drive? Seriously?], leaving Nocioni alone up top at his favorite spot for an uncontested 3PA — his second triple in under 90 seconds.
Speaking of schizophrenia, how about Al Thornton? There’s a possession early in the second half [3rd, 11:00], when a quick Clipper push off a Chicago miss gets Al a delicious mismatch against Derrick Rose. Al actually calls for the ball here, but when he gets it, he freezes — even though the left side is all his, even though he towers over Rose. Instead, he flings a terrible return pass to Baron that bounces into the backcourt. Herein lies the problem with Al. While he can be explosive off the dribble, he just doesn’t see the game at a professional level. He doesn’t know how to exploit his size on a mismatch, which is bad enough. But if he’s not going to take advantage of the situation, then he at least should enable his partner [Baron Davis] in the two-man game to exploit his. Seconds later on the other end, Al picks up Aaron Gray on a switch. When the shot goes up, Al doesn’t get a body on the Bulls center. Gray gets the rebound, then eventually a putback…and a foul. Is Thornton-Gray a fair fight? Probably not. But mismatches happen, and a small forward like Al has to at least try to keep Gray — who can’t jump over a phone book – off the glass in that situation. [ed. Do phone books still exist??]
How do you exploit a mismatch? Take a look at the very next Clipper possession [3rd, 10:36]. The early offense once again makes good things happen for the Clippers. This time, it’s Eric Gordon with the ball in his hands against Drew Gooden. No futzing around from EJ. He immediately takes a hard dribble with his right, blows baseline past Gooden, and gets to the rim for a layup.
Give Al credit — he breaks out of that funk:
- [3rd, 6:24] Off a Chicago miss in transition, Al fills the middle on the break. The Bulls’ transition D stays with him until the Clippers’ foul line. But when Al realizes that a quick burst can get him underneath the defense, he puts on the afterburners, dives to the basket, where Randolph hits him with a nifty pass from the right post.
- [3rd, 3:49] Al has it out on the left wing. Before Nocioni can get up on him, Al crosses him over left with a blazing first step, then a baseline drive that gets him to the rim in about, oh, a nanosecond. No hesitation, no tentativeness. Don’t think, Meat. Just pitch.
- [3rd, 2:49] More of a halfcourt set this time. Baron feeds Al at about 17 feet on the left side isolated against Deng. Quick jab step with his right, then an upfake. Deng bites, and just enough to afford Al a left-handed drive through the lane. The finish is outrageous — a wind-up scoop shot with his right that kisses the glass and falls in.
Tonight is one of those tough losses in the middle of a road trip that can be redeemed with a solid win against the one-man show in Indianapolis. Would be nice to see EJ have a nice homecoming.