Scores have been corrected during regulation summary.
One of the hazards of playing a team like New York or Golden State is that gluttonous chuckers treat the game like an all-you-can-shoot buffet, launching unconscionable jumpers with :19 left on the shot clock. For much of the night, the Clippers fall victim to that trend — the Davis guys in particular. The Clips also give up 18 offensive boards to a team that ranks 28th in rebounding rate. They’re particularly vulnerable when Zach Randolph isn’t on the floor.
Fortunately, the Clips get tremendous efforts from Eric Gordon and Steve Novak. Al Thornton carries the team through much of the second and third quarters, and Fred Jones keeps the Clips close down the stretch in regulation with a couple of big shots while they’re still trailing.
Zach Randolph is Zach Randolph — simultaneously an offensive workhouse and defensive pushover. He gets two crucial buckets on the Clippers’ final two possessions of regulation, when the Clippers claw back from three points down to send the game into overtime. It’s a bizarre sequence that captures Zach at his best and worst:
- [4th, 1:07] The Knicks lead by one. They go to that Nate Robinson/David Lee S/R that’s been humming all night. Lee sets a solid screen that Gordon valiantly fights over, but Eric can’t possibly catch the speedy Robinson, who’s well on his way to the rim. Randolph is useless here. He hangs Eric out to dry, turns his back to the driving Robinson to pick up Lee on the roll [!]. Sure enough, Robinson glides through the lane and launches a floater over Al Thornton, who’s the last line of help. New York 108, Clippers 105.
- [4th, 1:00] The Clips set up Randolph on the right block against David Lee. They first run Eric Gordon around Randolph, trying to rub Robinson off the Clippers’ PF. Robinson runs underneath, but is able to recover and cut off the passing lane between Baron and Eric. Instead, Eric sets up at the mid-post and the Clippers now have a stack…and here comes Steve Novak trying to get free above the stack. David Lee realizes two things:  There’s no way his teammate, Harrington, is going to be able to stay with Novak.  The only way for the Knicks to prevent Novak from getting a clean open look at a 3PA is for Lee to drop off Randolph and step out on Novak. So the Knicks switch: Lee picks up Novak on the right wing, and Harrington has assumed the role of guarding Randolph in the post. It’s a very, very nice set — well-drawn, well-executed. The Clippers wanted one of two things:  An open shot on the right arc for either Gordon or Novak.  Randolph against Harrington. They get the latter. Baron feeds Randolph, who takes a left-handed dribble into the lane, and gets mauled as he flings a left-handed hook that goes through the net. Zach should be going to the line for a FTA, but there’s no whistle. New York 108, Clippers 107.
- [4th, 0:47.1] Another S/R with Robinson/Lee. This time Lee slips the screen and the ball goes over to Chandler on the weak side. Chandler beats Davis and takes off down the lane. As he meets Novak in the paint, he kicks the ball out to David Lee on the right baseline for an open jumper. Randolph is late to close. The jumper is no good, but with the Clippers help line shifted right, there’s no one on the weak side glass to box out Harrington. He collects the miss, goes up for the easy jam, preens and slaps his hands at the base of the glass. Harrington is whistled for the T. Mike D’Antoni wants to kill him. Steve Novak hits the FTA. New York 110, Clippers 108.
- [4th, 0:25.0] The Clippers start with a stack on the right side — Randolph and Novak! Gordon curls around it, but Robinson is so small and so quick that he squeezes over Novak along the baseline and stays with Gordon. The Clippers go to their second option — Novak fades out to the perimeter as Randolph sets a down screen on Harrington. Though Harrington runs underneath, he’s able to meet Novak on the perimeter. So just like the last set, it comes down to Randolph one-on-one in the post, this time against Lee. This time, it’s much easier: Dribble, spin, hop, stop, pop. Two. New York 110, Clippers 110, with 0:11.2 remaining.
The Knicks aren’t able to convert on their final possession and the game goes into overtime, during which the Clippers never trail. Things get a little hairy when Harrington goes in for an easy layup [OT, 1:51], when Al Thornton is inexcusably lazy setting up defensively. Al moseys down the court as if a Mike D’Antoni team might actually burn some clock getting into its offense. He appears genuinely shocked when Harrington takes off with the ball to the rim, and ultimately fouls Harrington. Al is very lucky the FTA misses and the Clippers maintain a slim one-point lead.
After that, Zach Randolph bails out the Clippers again. The clock trickles down to nothing, which forces Baron Davis to launch an ugly 25-footer [not that Baron requires an expiring clock to launch ugly jumpers off the dribble], but Zach collects the miss and lays it up.
There are two hero possessions for the Clips in the final minute of OT:
- [OT, 0:40] Baron gets the ball to EJ on the right wing. Eric has Robinson beat this time en route to the basket, but has to drive to the far side of the rim along the baseline to avoid David Lee. The result in an acrobatic, double-clutch, reverse layup. The basket and the foul. The Clippers lead by four with 0:38 remaining.
- [OT, 0:15ish] The Clippers are up only a pair after a couple of Jared Jeffries FTMs, and there’s about a five second differential between the shot and game clocks. Baron milks some time. He’s up against the much longer Jeffries. Baron shows off a couple of fancy dribbles, then steps back for a 3PA that’s good. He’s genuinely joyous. It’s the kind of dagger Baron Davis used to hit with regularity, but apart from the shot in Portland, it’s his first real ice job for the Clippers.
Some general curiosities and oddities from both overtime and regulation:
- The first set of the overtime period is that same stack on the right block with Novak/Randolph, only this time [OT, 4:50], the ball goes into Thornton at the left elbow, isolated against Wilson Chandler. Ideally, Thornton would get a step on his man as he drives to the bucket and draw Randolph’s man as the help defender, which is sort of what happens — though Lee has the wisdom not to leave Randolph entirely alone. Also in an ideal world, Thorton would be able to hit Randolph with a pass when Zach’s man leaves him to double Al. We’ll work on that one.In this instance, Lee hedges, which means when Thornton misses the shot, Randolph is able to secure the miss and go back up for the second-chance layup. All this is to say that Dunleavy has found his preferred set for the Baron-Gordon-Thornton-Novak-Randolph smallball lineup. It’s something we haven’t seen before tonight’s game, and it’s quite effective.
- [2nd, 6:00] It’s not every day you see someone 5′ 7″ whistled for goal-tending, but that’s what happens when Nate Robinson skies to the glass to knock away Ricky Davis’ layup attempt on the break. I think guys under six feet should only be penalized a single point in that situation, as a tribute to their freakishness.
- Al’s athleticism lends itself to off-the-ball movement, because most defenders are going to have a tough time staying with him if he keeps his motor going in the halfcourt. There’s a pretty set that demonstrates this at the close of the first half [2nd, 0:50]. Fred Jones has it up top with Baron Davis in the right corner and Al on the left wing. Harrington is playing way, way off Al. When Thornton realizes this, he runs behind Jones just as Fred kicks the ball over to Baron. Al never stops moving. He takes a sharp left turn, then dives toward the hole just in front of Baron, who hits him with a nice pass. Al catches it in motion and glides in for the easy layup.There’s really no reason Al can’t be doing this on a regular basis, particularly when he’s in the game at the 4 against, presumably, a slower, less agile defender.
- Good Al, Bad Al: Thornton gets double-teamed on the perimeter [2nd, 7:44], something he’s not accustomed to dealing with. He tries to wiggle free from Al Harrington and Wilson Chandler, but because Al has trouble passing the ball, it’s a struggle. Finally, Steve Novak moves up top toward Al to give him a target.
Whenever struggling teams beat a Mike D’Antoni squad at its own game, it’s tempting to believe that they should play like that every night. The Clippers aren’t that team, shouldn’t be that team, and wouldn’t succeed at smallball against better defensive squads…which is the vast majority of the league. That said, we see some very interesting things tonight, most notably that a healthy Clipper team has some high-low versatility and enough good shooters to give themselves some favorable matchups against a lot of different kinds of teams.