When Jason Hart leaves the game in the first half with elbow tendinitis, Fred Jones – a player who wasn’t in the league a week ago – becomes the Clippers’ first-string point guard. Jones doesn’t play poorly, finishing with a +9 on the night, as the Clippers hang around against a healthy, talented Phoenix team.
Where is Baron Davis? A report that Baron would sit out the game with a bruised tailbone trickles out of Phoenix about ten minutes before tip-off. The way Baron has been shooting the ball during his first ten weeks as a Clipper, I’m willing to accept that he’s hurt. The unanswerable question, of course, is how many of the other 29 starting point guards in the league would be playing in Baron’s condition?
In no basketball universe is Fred Jones a natural point guard. You can observe his limitations at [3rd, 3:38], and [4th, 10:12] when he telegraphs a couple of bad passes in halfcourt sets that Matt Barnes and Leandro Barbosa poke away in the lanes for Phoenix fast breaks. But Jones has a good dribble game and isn’t afraid to draw contact on a drive for a trip to the line [3rd, 3:05; 3rd, 1:56]. Jones isn’t the defender Hart is, but Jason Richardson doesn’t kill him and he doesn’t make any brutal mistakes.
The game isn’t shown over-the-air or on cable in Los Angeles, so I pick up the Phoenix broadcast with Tom Leander and Scott Williams. It’s always interesting to hear the opposing crew. Early on, Leander speaks glowingly of Eric Gordon’s skill set. He cites a pregame conversation with Mike Smith, during which the Clippers’ color commentator tells Leander there isn’t anything on the floor that Gordon doesn’t do well. Leander and Williams also spend time on the Clippers’ train wreck narrative — the unending injuries, the Davis-Dunleavy flap, Ricky Davis, etc. Leander does a good job breaking down a set at [1st, 6:15] when Marcus Camby calls for a lob after he gets baseline position in a mismatch against Grant Hill. Instead of finding Camby, Hart swings it weak side along the perimeter to Eric Gordon. A frustrated Marcus Camby, who was wide open having spun off Hill, throws his arms in the air in disgust — and Marcus has every right to be pissed. Leander notes it as a talisman for the Clippers’ season.
Whatever annoyance Marcus might convey at Hart, the Clippers’ center is an absolute professional tonight. Marcus racks up 23 rebounds — 11 of them on the offensive glass — to go along with 19 points. Four of his seven FGMs come on tips or offensive boards. He repeatedly finds himself on his ass diving and scraping for what little is offered to his impoverished team. When this one is over, there are only seven bodies left standing for the Clippers in addition to Marcus. Each of them — Thornton, EJ, Novak, Collins, Jones, Skinner, and Paul Davis — could’ve phoned it in. None of them do.
Eric Gordon looks more like a pro with each outing. Tonight he scores 21 points on 65% TS, has three shots blocked [two of which will be called as fouls once he logs 200 games], and turns the ball over three times. EJ gets a great deuce at [4th, 3:53…garbage time, I know] when he starts in the right corner, runs the baseline, then flashes up to the left elbow, rubbing Jason Richardson by a Brian Skinner back screen. As he turns the corner around Skinner, EJ collects the ball from Jones, stop, and pops a high-arching jumper over Shaquille O’Neal. It’s vintage Rip Hamilton. And Rip Hamilton in the body of Eric Gordon sounds pretty good in the morass of an 8-24 season. We’ll worry about his Crawfordian rebounding rate later.