As unnecessarily stressful as this win is for the Clippers against an unimpressive Minnesota club, I was reminded of Michael Lewis’ piece last year in the New York Times about Shane Battier and the Houston Rockets. Lewis watched the second half of a Lakers-Rockets regular season game with Houston vice president of basketball operations, Sam Hinkie. Lewis explains that when Hinkie views a game, he’s more interested in whether the Rockets (or their opponents) get off a high-probability shot than whether the shot goes in.
More remarkable than the game were Hinkie’s reactions — and it soon became clear that while he obviously wanted the Rockets to win, he was responding to different events on the court than the typical Rockets (or N.B.A.) fan was.
“I care a lot more about what ought to have happened than what actually happens,” said Hinkie, who has an M.B.A. from Stanford. The routine N.B.A. game, he explained, is decided by a tiny percentage of the total points scored. A team scores on average about 100 points a game, but two out of three N.B.A. games are decided by fewer than 6 points — two or three possessions. The effect of this, in his mind, was to raise significantly the importance of every little thing that happened. The Lakers’ Trevor Ariza, who makes 29 percent of his 3-point shots, hit a crazy 3-pointer, and as the crowd moaned, Hinkie was almost distraught. “That Ariza shot, that is really painful,” he said. “Because it’s a near-random event. And it’s a 3-point swing.” When Bryant drove to the basket, instead of being forced to take a jump shot, he said: “That’s three-eighths of a point. These things accumulate.”
Almost every Clippers fan — and most of the players and the staff — would like to put a beatdown on Minnesota Monday night, but the Clippers barely eke out a three-point victory. Yet, if Eric Gordon and Rasual Butler drain those open looks from beyond the arc down the stretch, if Chris Kaman converts the easiest shot attempt he has all night beneath the basket with under two minutes to go, the final result would be much more satisfying. The Clips are better than the 22 percent they shot from beyond the arc Monday night, and Kaman statistically makes nearly two-thirds of his inside shots.
This isn’t to minimize the 20 turnovers, a condition that’s gone from unsettling curiosity to full-fledged epidemic over the past week. But the Clippers are able to generate a decent selection of looks, and on most nights that menu of shots will translate into better than 42.7 percent — their shooting clip for the game. Even the turnovers — 5 from Baron Davis, a player with an excellent record of protecting the basketball — is an outlier, born more out of ambition tonight than outright carelessness. All this makes the Clippers’ 98.9 offensive efficiency number — which normally reflects a woeful offensive night — a lot less disconcerting.
We’ll look at some more film tomorrow, but let’s discuss Chris Kaman’s first half: 16 points (7-9 FGs, 2-3 FTs), eight rebounds and two blocks. When Chris moves quickly away from the direction of the help, thereby thwarting the double-team, he’s nearly unstoppable from the block.
Kaman’s improved conditioning and stroke aren’t the only factors that have elevated his game. Baron Davis is setting Chris up beautifully, getting him the ball precisely where he likes it. (1st, 11:13; 1st, 5:29; and especially 2nd, 5:48 off the pick-and-roll). Baron deserves a lot of praise. The abundant flaws and bad habits in Baron’s game are glaringly obvious, so it’s easy to forget about his ability to work with players who need precise handling to find their shots — though Kaman is becoming pretty adept at creating his own shot these days.
There isn’t much to defend on the Wolves’ side of the ball. They don’t demand any coverage along the perimeter, which allows opponents to sag at will. Still, the Clippers defended Minnesota’s cuts and off-ball action extremely well. Marcus Camby was basket protector extraordinaire, and the help collapsed on Jonny Flynn upon penetration. He got off some shots in the first half, but the Clips didn’t allow him to make plays. In the second half, the Wolves invested everything they had in Al Jefferson down on the block. He and Ryan Hollins put up a combined 9-12 line from the field, but the Clippers’ perimeter defense was tight and the Wolves’ center play accounted for the entirety of their offense.
Aside from the turnovers, Eric Gordon’s 0-0 night from the line is the most troubling stat, particularly when you consider that the Clips are in the penalty early in both the third and fourth quarters. The Clips need to run more PNR sets for Eric in bonus situations — or any situation really. He’s demonstrated an increased ability to make plays when he can’t get all the way to the rack. Let him initiate the offense off the dribble.
Some video tomorrow.