It’s only fitting on the night the Clippers win their first game in nearly a month, the Clippers lose Marcus Camby to injury. At the 8:52 mark of the fourth quarter, Camby collects his fourth offensive rebound, but lands awkwardly, then buckles to the floor.
Camby’s injury is initially reported as a sprained ankle, but in Mike Dunleavy’s press conference following the victory, the Clippers coach tells reporters that Camby suffered a knee injury. The good news, according to Dunleavy, “It’s not as bad as it looked.” Dunleavy says that Camby, at one point, actually wanted back in the game.
Watching the first half of tonight’s game is like observing a pod of Hawaiian monk seals mating. Not only does Brian Skinner lead the Clippers with 14 points, but Al Thornton administers five dimes, and the Clippers shoot 59.5% from the floor.
There are five Al Thornton-to-Brian Skinner sequences in the first half:
- [1st, 8:03] The Bucks media guide lists Charlie Villanueva at 6′ 11″, while Brian Skinner stands about 6′ 9″. For whatever reason, Skinner has his way with Villanueva in the post [well, the reason might have to do with Villanueva’s defensive indifference]. On this first possession, Skinner sets up at the left elbow. Eric Gordon holds the ball on the right side, so Villanueva cheats low and strong. When Skinner recognizes this, he scoots deep into the paint. By the time Villanueva recovers and the Clippers work the ball around the perimeter, Skinner has established strong position on the low block. Thornton feeds Skinner a dicey entry pass that Skinner tracks down along the baseline. Skinner has work to do to get back into position to make a shot. With his left shoulder, he backs Villanueva in all the way to the restricted circle. Skinner’s right-handed hook shot is true.
- [1st, 7:24] The Clippers run a catch-and-shoot for Al, as he runs around an elbow screen from Skinner. The shot is off, but the long rebound bounces back into the hands of Thornton. He picks it up the ball and barrels into the lane. As the entire Milwaukee defense collapses around him in the paint, Al shuffles a little left-handed pass to Skinner on the baseline. Skinner converts the layup. Not something you see from Thornton everyday — a good pass in traffic — but a welcomed sight.
- [1st, 6:52] Third consecutive possession of Thornton-to-Skinner. The Clips run a pin-down for Al. He catches the ball as he swings around the screen from Skinner. Very similar dynamic to the previous possession: The Milwaukee defense collapses on Thornton in the lane, leaving Skinner alone on the baseline. Again, Thornton finds Skinner through traffic. Dan Gadzuric challenges, but Skinner fools him with a ball-fake. The right-handed hook is good.
- [1st, 4:05] Mardy Collins dribbles the ball on the left wing against Luke Ridnour. Thornton is set up — largely unattended to — in the weak side corner. Collins fires a skip pass to Thornton that’s very high. Al has to climb the ladder to get it, which allows Richard Jefferson plenty of time to recover. Skinner, meanwhile, has sealed off Mbah a Moute beneath the basket. Thornton recognizes this, and darts a bounce pass along the baseline to Skinner. All Skinner has to do is pluck the ball and elevate for the jam.
- [2nd, 3:21] The Clippers get into early offense. Thornton has it on the right wing, one-on-one against Jefferson. Thornton crosses him over, then bursts ahead with a right-handed drive. Francisco Elson and the rest of the Bucks defense drops low to converge on Thornton. Again, in traffic, Thornton is able to thread the needle to Skinner, who is alone at the foul line. Skinner thinks about the jumper, then realizes he can dribble ahead another five feet. He does just that, then drops a little floater with his right. It falls through the hoop.
I can’t remember the last time Thornton passed out of a drive to create something for someone else. Here, against the collapsing Milwaukee defense, he does so repeatedly, with precision. It’s like seeing your teacher in some strange context outside of school.
Skinner finishes the game with 18 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks on 76.4 TS%.
The Clippers dominate the paint and it isn’t just Skinner on the block and Thornton at the rim. The Clippers challenge Milwaukee’s perimeter players in the post all night. Thornton backs in Jefferson [3rd, 9:44], Collins against Ridnour repeatedly to initiate the offense…even Steve Novak gets into the act. At [4th, 5:26], the Bucks get crossed up, because they’ve got Ridnour on Novak, yielding eight inches to the Clippers forward. Novak backs Ridnour in, spins his left shoulder around while pivoting with his right, then shoots a perfect 18-footer over Ridnour.
When the Clippers aren’t scoring in the paint, they’re getting smart drive-and-kicks through penetration. At [3rd, 5:03], Collins pushes the ball ahead against Ridnour with a drive left. As the Bucks’ defense collapses, Collins finds Eric Gordon alone in the left corner. His high-arching 3PA is good.
Ricky Davis has only his second effective game as a Clipper. He lights it up from the right side. Davis scores five of his 13 points in about a thirty-second span in the fourth quarter — on a couple of free throws produced by a strong drive in transition, and a successful 3PA after Jefferson leaves him alone in the weak side corner. Gordon makes a dazzling pass, midair between two defenders, to find him.
An extended absence by Camby would be disastrous. Assuming he’s out on Monday afternoon, Dunleavy would be forced to go with Thornton at the 4, and start Ricky Davis at the small forward. Minnesota is a strong rebounding team, particularly on the offensive glass, where they rank 6th in the league.