One of the maxims of NBA basketball is that no matter how heated things get on the court, punches never find their intended target. Players dance around, jaw at one another, but relative peace prevails. Tonight, Zach Randolph flouts that unwritten law, and connects with a left-handed jab to Louis Amundson’s face.
Randolph and Amundson get tangled underneath the Clippers basket as the two big men battle for position. As Ricky Davis’ 3PA falls through the basket, Randolph shoves the Phoenix reserve to the floor, then stands over Amundson, taunting him. When Amundson gets up and confronts Zach, Randolph pops him one.
The timing couldn’t be worse. The Clippers are without Marcus Camby and Brian Skinner — their only two passable interior defenders. Chris Kaman is still a couple weeks away, and the Clips waived Cheikh Samb yesterday after acquiring another marginal Piston, Alex Acker. Zach and DeAndre Jordan qualify as the only legitimate bigs available to Mike Dunleavy to contend with Shaquille O’Neal and Amare Stoudemire.
It’s doubtful Zach Randolph considers this when he acquaints Amundson’s jaw with his fist. At no point during his career has Randolph given off the impression he considers much of anything outside that small space around the low right block. Within the confines of the post area — stretching out toward the perimeter — and the ball in his hands, Randolph is a stinking genius. Get him outside his little fiefdom, and he’s Zach Randolph — an oblivious lug who can’t be bothered defensively, can’t create a shot for any teammate, and detracts from any semblance of his team’s class or collective character. Fortunately, this Clippers team at this moment in the organization’s history has little class or character to lose. Randolph will always be able to carry the scoring load on a bad team, but that’s the extent of his function in the NBA.
It wasn’t Zach Randolph’s fist that cost the Clippers the game – the jab at Amundson might have sealed it – but actually his first quarter defense. The five most terrifying words to a Clipper fan: “O’Neal will work against Randolph.” Ten seconds into the game, Randolph all but surrenders to an Amare Stoudemire back screen along the baseline, which gives O’Neal an easy two. [1st, 11:50] On the very next PHX possession, he never leaves his feet to help on the Stoudemire drive; he merely sloughs off O’Neal at 15 feet, goes to a spot beneath the basket, and watches Stoudemire throw it down. It’s laughable. [1st, 11:28]. Then once O’Neal checks out for his first breather, there’s the vaunted Nash/Amundson S/R at [1st, 2:44]. The Clippers correctly trap Nash on the perimeter. But Randolph stumbles behind Nash, who has already turned the corner and taken off for the hoop. By clumsily lurching between Nash and Fred Jones, Randolph is actually an impediment to his teammate, who is trying to recover on the play. Nash drives unbothered toward the rack, with Amundson on the drag to Nash’s right. Easy pass to Amundson, easy uncontested two.
There’s little else to say about a game in which the Clippers trail by 52 with two minutes remaining. We see the first of Alex Acker as a Clipper, and the Wisconsin Badger Pepperdine Wave shows off his range with a trio of long-range bombs. Steve Novak has one of his poorer shooting nights of the season. Eric Gordon picks up where he left off Friday night on the same hardwood.
The two teams will go at it again tomorrow night, almost certainly without Zach Randolph. Unless Camby has recovered from his ear infection or Brian Skinner can suit up, the Clippers’ front line will once again be reduced to DeAndre Jordan.