Despite a number of dominating spurts by both teams, Monday’s game against the Wizards is a microcosmic win for the Clippers. They play strong half-court defense throughout most of the game, but lose the first half because they can’t control the defensive glass.
There are few players in the league who can sniff out a mismatch better than Antawn Jamison, and he burns the Clippers for 17 first-half points. But apart from Jamison, the Clips bottle up Washington’s perimeter corps. Baron Davis and Chris Kaman are quick to hedge and recover on the pick-and-roll (The Clippers do far less trapping tonight). Eric Gordon harasses Nick Young and DeShawn Stevenson. During their third quarter comeback, the Clippers force the Wizards into some awful contested shots. They lock and trail on Washington’s baseline screens — and promptly switch assignments when necessary (3rd, 4:00, with Butler picking up Jamison).
This strong perimeter defense allows the Camby and Kaman to situate themselves where they’re most useful — close to the basket. They combine for five blocked shots. Unfortunately, Kaman is a little too eager to stuff opposing shooters in the first half, which allows Washington openings on their own backboard. But all in all, the Clippers’ aggressive possession defense works fluently. The win is one of the Clippers’ most complete defensive efforts in the halfcourt this season.
Offensively, the Clips settle for too many leaning, off-balance stuff from long range, but they get huge contributions from Kaman and Gordon. Kaman doesn’t get himself fully on track until the second half, when he recognizes that Washington is offering him the luxury of working one-on-one without much pressure down on the block.
“Not a lot of teams let me do that one-on-one in the post,” Kaman said. “But if teams are going to let me do that, I’m going to score.”
Kaman’s jumper has deserted him in recent weeks, and it was only a matter of time before he calibrated his game — more attention toward using his agility and footwork to beat post defenders and fewer step-back jumpers from 18 feet.
“I started out the game shooting jump shots a little bit, some pick-and-rolls,” Kaman said. “In the second quarter I got a little cold shooting the ball…but in the second half, I got aggressive. My jump shots didn’t fall. I missed on one play we run where I shoot a jump shot. It was kind of a longer one and I missed it. (n.b. 3rd, 10:56) So I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to go inside and try to get some stuff off the post. And it worked.”
Mike Dunleavy attributed some of Kaman’s success closer to the hoop to the Clippers’ wings.
“We had Eric and Rasual both making shots,” Dunleavy said. “If we’re making shots from the outside, then [Kaman] is going to get some single coverage.”
The Wizards adjust their strategy on Kaman in the fourth quarter, but Chris manages the additional pressure well, dishing out three assists in the quarter — one of them a beautiful interior pass to Camby out of the double team (4th, 8:03):
Gordon keeps the Wizards perimeter defenders off-balance much of the night. When they play up, Gordon drives to the hole. When they give him space, either trailing the screen or late to close, Gordon launches a long-range jumper. Eric’s smartest bucket comes at a crucial juncture late in the game when he connects with Marcus Camby (4th, 3:28):
Camby has been tremendous as a playmaker at the top of the circle all season. Here, he motions for Eric to cross to the ball side and, in the process, Eric rubs Stevenson off Kaman. With Stevenson now trailing, Gordon darts across the lane and Camby guides him with a perfect bounce pass just underneath the left side of the hoop. Rather than rush the layup, Gordon pump-fakes, luring Stevenson close, then drawing the contact on the way up. Eric sinks the basket — and one.
The Clips almost cough up the game late. With the Clippers up only a pair with 0:28.1 remaining, Eric gets very, very lucky when he’s inexplicably distracted by Earl Boykins way out in the arc. While Eric’s attention is diverted, Young escapes out to the arc where gets a clean look at a 3PA (4th, 0:16):
Baron Davis shoots 2-for-12 from the field, but knocks down an enormous 3PM at the 6:05 mark of the 4th quarter to vault the Clippers into the lead by two. His shot selection notwithstanding, Baron is gradually establishing real trust with his teammates. There’s a satisfying moment about a minute and a half later when Chris grabs a big offensive board. More times than not, Chris would kick the ball out and the Clippers would reset, but here he takes a moment to recognize an advantageous one-on-one situation against Jamison. Chris dances into the lane with a left-handed dribble, then whirls with a huge baseline pivot and finishes with his right off the glass. Vintage Chris.
Baron, watching from the backcourt, pumps his fist. He then nods at Chris, admiring the swagger.