Through three quarters, the Clippers exhibited everything that has made them absolutely infuriating to watch so far this year. Despite out-shooting their opponent from the field (44% to 32% in the first half), rotating well on defense, and building a substantial lead, the Clippers fell behind on the scoreboard at the end of three periods, 76-75. Outplayed but not outworked, the Thunder again looked primed to steal a victory late from the Clippers on the back of Kevin Durant. What, or who, was the difference for the Clippers down the stretch tonight?
- Vintage Baron – The Baron Davis seen tonight was more in line with what Clippers fans expected when he was signed to his long-term contract. While Baron undoubtedly has been a better overall player this season as opposed to last, he’s still left something to desire with his shot-making ability in crunch time. Baron’s biggest possession came at a crucial time tonight.
[4th quarter, .43 seconds] – Baron works a high pick and roll with Kaman, but Westbrook sinks way off Baron to possibly switch or impede the path of a diving Kaman. There’s confusion with Westbrook and Krstic, and Baron suddenly realizes he has plenty of room on the perimeter, gets his feet set under him, and drills a three pointer to make it a two possession game with limited time remaining.
Baron has yet to, and maybe never will, live up to many fans expectations, but tonight he’s finally the closer the Clippers have desperately needed.
- The New Al Thornton – Al has had a rough go of it this season, but tonight he was very important in keeping the game alive for the Clippers. Now fighting for playing time and some respect, Al has shown a new willingness to use his athleticism on the offensive glass, and tonight he records three big offensive boards in the final period. Along with his new found hunger for offensive rebounding, Al seemingly has reverted back to what his game should be centered around: Attacking the basket and getting to the line. All 7 of Al Thornton’s made buckets tonight come via dunk or layup. The shot chart may not be pretty, but it gives you a nice idea of where Al should be spending his time.
- Chris Kaman – Is the Kaman love getting old yet? Tonight, Kareem Rush and Steve Novak combine to play42 minutes with the sole purpose of stretching the floor for Kaman and giving him room to operate. Rush incidentally plays some nice defense to go along with his 9 points, but ultimately he’s able to be on the floor because of the attention Kaman draws. Chris went for his suddenly standard 25 points on a very efficient 10-15 from the field. Kaman’s trade value around the league is higher than it’s ever been, but I doubt Dunleavy is fielding any offers. The Clippers offense would be nothing without him.
- A little luck - Sometimes, the difference in a close game can boil down to who makes their shots. The quality of looks in the fourth period tonight weren’t overwhelmingly better than they’ve been during the three game losing streak, but the looks fall. Can Scotty Brooks live with Marcus Camby shooting a contested jumper from 18 feet? Probably, but it’s one of the shots that tipped the scale for the Clippers. Maybe the Thunder shouldn’t have been in this game in the first place. With that said, the Clippers should feel pretty lucky that they escaped with a win, especially considering how hot Durant was.
If those shots by Baron and Camby don’t fall, there’s an entirely different outlook on this game. Dunleavy’s head is called for, Baron’s leadership qualities are questioned, and the ESPN trade machine is fired up with all sorts of scenarios to get rid of the Butlers and Thorntons of the world. The fact that the Clippers allowed 18 offensive rebounds is likely pored over. The stat that shows the Clippers have shot better from the field than their opponents in 7 out of 11 games this season, yet still have a losing record, is dissected. Winning can sometimes be the ultimate concealer.
While it’s a much needed win for team and fan base alike, it’s still troubling that the Clippers are making a habit of wasting too many possessions. Turnovers (29th in the league in turnover ratio) and poor defensive rebounding (26th in the league in defensive rebounding rate) can’t continue to be issues if this team has real playoff aspirations. The Clippers simply shouldn’t have needed those big shots down the stretch to put away the Thunder; the game should have been locked up and over long before them.
Regardless of the pessimism, a revenge win on the road, without Gordon and Griffin no less, is truly impressive.
The Clippers will try again to avenge another early season loss when they travel to New Orleans on Tuesday.