On the road with a sluggish broadband connection, I had a chance to see only the second half of this one.
With Zach Randolph out and Marcus Camby sidelined with a migraine after only 12 minutes, the Clippers go small with Baron-Jones-Collins-Thornton-Jordan to start the second half, and it serves them well offensively for a good part of the third quarter. The Clippers come out of the locker room with a couple of ugly turnovers, but then begin to push the ball more in the open floor, and get a lot more movement in the halfcourt. There’s a nice six or seven possession sequence when the Clippers capitalize on a couple of bad Memphis misses. Both Baron and Thornton are in full attack mode, DeAndre Jordan crashes the boards to create additional opportunities [and even delivers a slick interior pass to a cutting Thornton for an easy bucket], and the Clippers find all kinds of space for open jumpers [Jones at 3rd, 7:54] and basket cuts [Collins at 3rd, 6:13]. But after Steve Novak hits a 3PA to break a very short-lived Memphis zone, the Clippers don’t convert another field goal for more than seven minutes.
As badly as the offense fades, the trouble starts on the defensive end when Rudy Gay begins to heat up. He torches the Clippers for 20 points in the third quarter [6-7 FG, 2-3 3PA, 6-6 FT]. Once again, the Clippers are done in by their inability to guard the wing. Gay has a fantastic ability to get separation from his defender to create his own shot, and when his long-range game is humming, his lanky frame is a near impossible cover for a hobbled Mardy Collins and a helpless Al Thornton, who nominally picks up Gay once Collins checks out. Gay punctuates the quarter with a silky, unconscionable 30-footer to cap an 18-2 Memphis run.
The problems run deeper than Gay. Steve Novak can’t do much to stop Hakim Warrick inside, and asking Mike Taylor to accomplish anything defensively against O.J. Mayo is simply unfair. DeAndre Jordan struggles defending Marc Gasol, who finishes with 10 assists. Like his brother, Pau, Marc has a preternatural ability to find cutters over his shoulder with easy passes. If the Clippers have any chance to get back into the game at the start of the fourth quarter, Gasol ensures that it doesn’t happen. In a three-minute span, Gasol finds Greg Buckner along the arc for a 3PM, delivers a perfect interior pass to Darrell Arthur for an easy jumper in the paint, makes a beautiful 60-foot outlet pass to Hakim Warrick off a jump ball on the Clippers’ end, and dekes Jordan on a simple S/R play to get himself a 5-footer. The Grizz extend an 11-point lead to 18, and the game is effectively over.
One nice sight for Clippers fans: Quinton Ross picks up 21 minutes of action. Aaron Barzilai, who’s been doing some of the most interesting advanced statistical analysis in the game, released his adjusted plus/minus ratings recently. The data showed Ross as the second most effective defensive player in the league over the past two years, but tonight Ross works his offensive game, hitting a three-pointer toward the end of the first quarter to extend the Memphis lead to six — a play I sadly missed.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Donald Sterling got loose in the Clippers’ locker room following Monday night’s loss to San Antonio. Ben Bolch quotes team sources saying that Sterling “offered a blanket denunciation of the players and strongly backed Coach and General Manager Mike Dunleavy.”
The timing is curious, and by casual observation, the effort Monday night was relatively vigorous compared to what we saw immediately after the break. A team owner certainly has the right to lash out at his team whenever he feels like it. But to berate a squad when its two most efficient scorers and best wing defender aren’t suited up just seems tone-deaf, particularly when the owner excludes the staff from his wholesale criticism.