In a game that includes a rim-hanging technical foul in the final thirty seconds of regulation, an inbounds violation inside of four minutes, a New York FGM with no Knick anywhere near the ball or basket, a Baron Davis leg cramp in overtime, seven 3PMs in the first four minutes of the second half, the biggest curio of them all is Mike Taylor. The rookie point guard scores 35 points [14-20 FG, 7-7 FT], fueling the Clippers to an improbable win that, for a quarter, looked like it might exceed all but the Cleveland and the early Denver loss in absolute unsightliness.
The game begins horribly. Even though they field a starting lineup that includes Zach Randolph [against Al Harrington], Al Thornton [Quentin Richardson], and Marcus Camby [David Lee] — not a Knick shot-blocker in sight — the Clippers work themselves only two inside looks over the first eight possessions. It’s astounding, because if a team isn’t shooting inside of 15 feet against the Knicks, it simply isn’t trying. And the Clippers aren’t. There’s a telling moment toward the end of the first quarter [1st, 1:22] with the Clippers trailing 40-23. A penetrating Chris Duhon, motor running a little hot, picks up his dribble before he realizes he has no one to pass out to. The ball ends up in the hands of Zach Randolph, who throws it ahead to Eric Gordon in the open court. It’s not a great pass — Eric has to run it down on the right side with Nate Robinson in hot pursuit. Eric gathers the ball, but when he looks up to find what should be a procession of teammates filling the open lanes, all he sees are white jerseys. Jared Jeffries and Al Harrington crane their heads around, almost surprised to see they’ve beaten their assignments back on a certain Clippers’ fast break. Neither Baron Davis nor Zach Randolph bothered to run out on the break. They outsourced the entire opportunity to the rookie. Never let anyone ever tell you that all Zach Randolph cares about are his personal statistics.
Gordon is the only starter who plays with any degree of intensity in the opening quarter, when the Clippers give up a season-high 44 points. When the Clippers start the second with Gordon and four reserves — Mike Taylor, Fred Jones, Steve Novak, and Chris Kaman — the game changes. Taylor was born to play at this tempo, and he scores 17 points in the second quarter:
- [1st, 11:10] Chris Kaman, who turns in a solid 14 minutes tonight [9 points, 4-5 FG, 1-2 FT, only one turnover], collects the long Nate Robinson miss and gets the outlet pass to Taylor at halfcourt. Taylor initially slows it down, then Kaman runs interference up top with a slip screen, which buys Taylor the step he needs. Nate Robinson has a horrible habit of clawing after guys who beat him off the dribble, and that’s what happens here. Taylor, who’s only a .592 FT shooter coming into the game, hits both FTAs. He finishes the night 7-7 from the line.
Taylor’s strength is in the open court, but here he orchestrates his move well in the half-court. Sometimes young guards get shpilkes — as Taylor has this season — and they rush into space before the screen is set and the opening is there. Not on this possession.
- [1st, 10:15] Another rebound by Kaman, who quickly shuttles it to Taylor. The speedster breezes across the time line, weaves his way around Robinson, cradles the ball as he gets to the foul line, then lunges ahead toward Jared Jeffries, who’s beneath the basket. Taylor flings the ball up with his right, kisses it off the glass, and draws contact. Three points.
When you play that quickly, you’re going to generate offense merely by the element of surprise.
- [1st, 9:36] Chris Wilcox’s missed layup spills over the rim and Taylor, who’s everywhere, grabs it. In fewer than five seconds, he’s at the Clippers’ foul line, where he stops and pops a PUJIT. Two more for the element of surprise.
The story of this sequence is off-camera where, according to Ralph Lawler, Chris Kaman stops to help Chris Wilcox up during the Clippers’ break, after Wilcox crashes to the floor after missing the shot.
- [1st, 8:43] A missed follow attempt by Wilcox goes to Gordon, who quickly gets it to Taylor in the open floor. Taylor never breaks stride as he collects the pass, then craters into Nate Robinson, drawing Robinson’s third foul. Another trip to the line for Taylor.
Notice how all this fortuitous stuff happens off defensive stops? Not a coincidence.
- [1st, 8:22] Al Harrington loses the ball off the dribble. Taylor hunts it down, then pushes it across halfcourt. Taylor’s biggest strength might be his ability to attack backpedaling defenders in the open court. As good as Chris Duhon is on the defensive end of the floor, there’s not much he can do with Taylor speeding toward him, yet Duhon almost manages to stabilize himself as Taylor reaches the elbow. Taylor recognizes this and shimmies with a little hesitation move, enough to draw Duhon off-balance again. This earns Taylor a little more space to float his runner, which he does. Duhon challenges the shot, but fouls Taylor on the release. Two more FTAs — Taylor sinks both.
- [1st, 7:28] Strange that Steve Novak doesn’t factor into a three-point barrage like this one, but when you take a look at this set, you see why. Al Harrington normally isn’t the most attentive defender on the floor, but here he latches onto Novak as the Clippers run their sharpshooter off a couple of screens. Harrington anticipates each one of them, as he’s almost certainly been instructed to do, and Novak never gets a clean look.
The ball ends up on the right side of the court as Fred Jones and Kaman try to initiate a little two-man game. Jones uses a good screen by Kaman to penetrate into the painted area where he’s met by a crowd of Knick defenders, including Chris Duhan, who has left Taylor beyond the arc to help on the driving Jones. With nobody accounting for him, Taylor makes a heady decision here to cut to the basket. Jones hits Taylor in stride with the pass, and Taylor challenges Wilson Chandler all the way to rim, laying it up and in against the forward. Great off-the-ball work to create a shot against a strong defensive stand.
- [1st, 4:45] Taylor is the show and his teammates know it. Al Thornton offers the first screen up top on the right side, but it doesn’t get Taylor much, so Zach Randolph takes a turn. Lee and Duhon show nicely. As Taylor moves to his left — which is clearly his first choice — he’s forced to reverse course when he encounters the Knicks’ big man. Taylor switches hands. With Duhon still recovering against a solid screen by Randolph, Taylor elevates for a jumper.
I don’t love the mechanics of Taylor’s shot — he puts a little too much hip into this shooting motion, which disrupts his balance — but it’s true tonight. Here, he goes window and chalks up his 14th and 15th points of the quarter.
- [1st, 1:57] The Clippers are energized and it’s Mike Taylor’s doing. A minute before his final basket of the quarter, he’s clapping his hands emphatically after the Clips earn a rare, hard-fought defensive stop. A couple of possessions later, Baron Davis pushes another Knick miss ahead to Taylor, who zips into the halfcourt, this time with his left. Taylor finds his target — Quentin Richardson — and speeds toward him. At the last instant, Taylor explodes to his left, avoiding Q, then switches hands. As he elevates for the layup, Taylor twists in the air and lands with a triumphant hop. He’s just given the Clippers their first lead of the night.
Only one of Taylor’s eight scoring sequences in the second quarter follow a Knicks’ FGM, with six of the eight coming off a Knicks’ miss, and that trend continues through the game. Running is predicated on defensive stops, which is why the Clippers appear most fluid during their best defensive quarter.