For the better part of a month, Marcus Camby stabilized the Clippers’ interior play — both their rebounding attack and the business of patrolling the paint defensively. As bad as things got for the Clippers over their twelve-game losing streak that ended on Saturday night, Camby helped to minimize the damage in the paint and on the glass.
With Camby now out of action, the Clippers must confront a whole new nightmare — a world where the Minnesota Timberwolves can outscore the Clippers in the paint by a 24-point margin. The focal point of Minnesota’s offense is their center, Al Jefferson, and he cooks the Clippers for 20 interior points. But the Clippers also allow the likes of Craig Smith to brutalize them inside.
Smith is a chunky, undersized third-year power forward out of Boston College who knows how to create space for himself in the offense. 20 of Minnesota’s interior points belong to him. He scores 16 points in the first quarter — outmanning Brian Skinner down low [1st, 10:42; 1st, 4:18; 1st, 2:00], outsmarting Thornton in the halfcourt [1st, 6:42; 1st, 3:35], and outhustling Al Thornton in transition [1st, 7:40; 1st, 2:36]. By the time the Wolves are through administering the Craig Smith Treatment to the Clips at the end of the first, they have a 10-point advantage. Minnesota never relinquishes that lead.
The Clips surrender 17 offensive boards to Minnesota, something you’d expect without Camby against a strong rebounding team like the Wolves. But the Clippers manage 18 rebounds of their own. Al Thornton picks up five rebounds on the offensive glass. Though two of them are off his own misses, he does a nice job working around Ryan Gomes and Craig Smith for two more in the third quarter. Thornton finishes the game with nine total rebounds, an important factor in keeping the Clippers close on the glass, a battle they lose narrowly 46-42.
DeAndre Jordan collects five offensive rebounds of his own — 10 total — and blocks six Minnesota shots. Less than a year ago, Jordan was at Texas A & M and thought to be a draft lottery pick. Scouts were drawing comparisons to Dwight Howard, noting that Jordan’s athleticism and quicks made him indefensible once he got his soft hands on the ball down low.
But after a rocky start to the Big 12 season, Jordan was banished to the Aggies bench. For all the physical potential Jordan displayed, he seemed impervious to learning the nuances of the game. Critics began to characterize Jordan’s light-heartedness as an unwillingness to apply himself to the tough work of improving his raw skills. After Jordan logged only six points in 15 minutes in the Aggies’ second-round loss to UCLA in the NCAA Tournament last March, the consensus was that Jordan would return to College Station for his sophomore year. Jordan went against his better advice and entered the 2008 NBA Draft. His stock plummeted, so much that the Clippers found themselves with the opportunity to snatch him up in the second round with the 35th overall pick.
Jordan displays some very good timing for a big man. Al Jefferson is no easy assignment, and at [3rd, 9:04] Jordan finds himself defending him one-on-one to the left of the paint. Jefferson faces up and offers a little ball-fake, but Jordan doesn’t bite. Jefferson then deliberately backs Jordan inside with his left shoulder. Jordan keeps his chest out, absorbs the bumps [and bumps back], and moves his feet. When Jefferson reaches the center of the lane, he pivots with his left, then swings his right shoulder around before elevating for the shot. Jordan slides along with him. He keeps his feet bouncy, but doesn’t elevate until Jefferson raises his shooting shoulder. When Jordan lifts, he goes straight up, avoiding the foul. He tips the shot, and Skinner comes down with it.
That’s good post defense.
Eric Gordon starts the game ice cold, missing five of his first six shots. We’ve seen over the past week or so that opposing teams are more reluctant to drop off Eric when he’s away from the ball. You see this dynamic at work at the very outset of today’s game when EJ dumps the ball into Thornton in the post. Randy Foye hedges for an instant, but it’s apparent that his attention is drawn more to Gordon on the perimeter than to bothering Thornton low. Would this have been the case in November? Unlikely.
Gordon comes out of his shooting slump with a fury in the third quarter. He gets exactly what he needs at [3rd, 9:23] when he muscles his way to the cup with a strong drive to his left through traffic. After that, the long shots start to fall. At [3rd, 8:02], Foye gets distracted, and Eric drains his first 3PFG of the day. Steve Novak forces Mike Miller under a screen that gives EJ free space along the arc at [3rd, 3:16] for another triple. He finishes the game 3-8 from long range.
Good work from Steve Novak along the perimeter today. More on Novak tomorrow morning.