There are back-to-back possessions early in the game that offer a glimpse of the Clippers’ prolific offensive night:
- [1st, 8:56] With Jeff Green starting at PF for Oklahoma City and Brian Skinner suffering flu-like symptoms, Mike Dunleavy has inserted Ricky Davis into the starting lineup, shifting Al Thornton to the 4. Eric Gordon inbounds the ball on the far sideline to Ricky Davis up top. Al Thornton and Mardy Collins occupy the respective blocks. Collins sets a little baseline cross-screen for Thornton, who moves to the low right block. One of the benefits of having Al at the 4 — and I’m not sure there are all that many — is that he generally receives the ball closer to the basket, which diminishes the possibility that he’s going to fire a contested 19-footer. Ricky Davis delivers a bullet bounce pass that hits Thornton perfectly as he swings around the screen. Jeff Green trails him. Thornton takes a single dribble, then forcefully carves out some room for himself with an assertive turn of his right shoulder. Maintaining full control of his body, Thornton elevates — keeping the ball low — then fires a strong fadeaway jumper over Green from 12 feet.
- [1st, 8;23] A Kevin Durant missed shot pinballs beneath the hoop before landing in the hands of DeAndre Jordan. Eric Gordon is the recipient of the outlet pass. He’s defended by Kyle Weaver from the very outset of the play, so what follows is not a case of Gordon having plenty of free space in the open court. Weaver stays with EJ the whole way. Eric races the ball upcourt in transition. About seven feet beyond midcourt, Eric slows up to a stationary dribble in what looks to be evolving into a deliberate halfcourt set. Weaver stops short, then turns around to set himself defensively opposite EJ. As he does, Eric crosses over from his right. Then, with his left hand, EJ explodes right with a burst of speed. He finishes with that acrobatic scoop layup that’s becoming familiar — where he’s facing the court, shoulders parallel to the baseline, as he kisses the ball off the glass.
The Clippers’ two primary scorers both operate efficiently tonight. Gordon racks up a career-high 41 points, more than any NBA rookie has scored in a game this season. His line is impressive: 41 points, 12-19 FGs [5-7 3PA], 12-14 FTAs on 81.5% TS. The last bucket:
- [4th, 1:01] The Clippers lead by three with about a minute remaining in regulation. Fred Jones brings the ball up slowly as Gordon runs down the right side of the court. Steve Novak sets a baseline screen. EJ runs around the screen with Russell Westbrook trailing, then pops out to the left wing where he gets the ball from Jones. Westbrook can chase with the best of them, and he catches up to Gordon and coolly settles himself defensively. Gordon feeds Al in the post against Jeff Green. It’s a decent entry pass, but Thornton fumbles the ball before eventually getting hold of it — a tense moment in a crucial possession. Al manages to kick the ball back to Gordon out on the arc. Westbrook gambles for an instant, which gives Eric a slight opening to split the defenders. Gordon finds daylight, but then is met by Nick Collison, the weak side help. Collison elevates straight up to contest Gordon at the rim. Eric avoids Collison by sustaining himself mid-air, while he whirls a scoop shot that he kisses off the glass for a layup.
Eric Gordon doesn’t complicate matters. On most possessions, he’s either getting a nice look at a 3PA, or he’s exploding to the hoop — looking for either a finish, contact, or both. Tonight, he rarely settles for anything less.
Al Thornton plays one of his more measured games of the season. Unofficially, Thornton finishes 5-11 from beyond 17 feet [2-2 3PA], which means he takes almost two-thirds of his 29 shot attempts from inside 17 — a very good distribution for Al.
The team needs an offensive facilitator after Collins leaves with a strained right calf four minutes into the game. They get one in, of all people, Ricky Davis. Despite a woeful shooting night, Davis stabilizes the Clippers at point through much of the game, and dishes out 11 dimes in 30 minutes. He makes a fantastic pass out of a baseline trap that finds Eric Gordon open along the arc for a 3PA [2nd, 2:35]. He also runs a nice set on a high S/R with Jordan, where Fred Jones fills space on the perimeter behind the screen. Davis hits him with a good pass and Jones drains the 3PA [3rd, 7:58]. A few minutes later, Davis finds Jones again, this time on a perfectly orchestrated alley-oop [3rd, 2:30]. Jones and Davis each finish with a team-best +8. There’s a bit of irony that on a night when the Clippers lose their pseudo-PG, they finish with only seven turnovers, tying a season-low.
When a guy is struggling with open looks, the question becomes: Will he compromise the team with his poor shot, or will he find something useful to do in the offense? Tonight, Davis helps the Clippers immensely by moving the ball around in the halfcourt.
DeAndre Jordan has a rough night, and never re-enters the game after he leaves at [3rd, 6:58]. He gets discombobulated a few minutes earlier, during a strange sequence at the 9:28 mark. Jordan tries to wrestle a rebound away from Al Thornton underneath the Thunder basket. The ball squirts out, and ends up in the hands of Jeff Green, who scores on a putback. The play clearly eats at Jordan, who shuffles slowly upcourt. Ricky Davis yells an encouraging, “Come on, D!” before calling 3-Down, which prompts Gordon to cut underneath and pop. The ball eventually goes into Jordan on a beautiful bounce pass from Ricky Davis, but Jordan drops the ball on his way up for the layup. He’s now really, really discouraged. A minute later during a dead ball, Fred Jones goes over to console him.
When asked about it after the game, Jones says, “I’ve been in his shoes. I’ve been a rookie in this league. One day you’re a superstar, the next you’re having a tough night. I understand that. I was able to be raised in this league by great vets like Reggie Miller and different guys like that who always told me to keep on an even keel. The way they spoke to me when I was a rookie, I felt like I should do the same thing.”