A game against Minnesota presents the Clippers with a philosophical challenge. They have such significant offensive advantages over the Wolves at virtually every position on the floor, it’s almost a shame not to engage Minnesota in one-on-one, isolation basketball.
Most nights, that strategy grinds the Clippers’ offense to a stop. But on Wednesday, the Clips attack those mismatches aggressively from the outset. Once they secure their defensive glass and the transition lanes and push Al Jefferson out a little further off the left block, the Clippers are able to maximize their size on the interior and their lead guards’ ability to create.
It takes a quarter or so for Chris Kaman to settle into the game. He makes life a little too easy for Al Jefferson in the first quarter (both in the post and on the glass), and doesn’t appear comfortable with his shot. Chris gets an early blow with about five minutes left in the first quarter soon after Jefferson drains consecutive shots inside of 12 feet.
When Chris checks back into the game to start the second period, he drains a couple of spontaneous jumpers that spark him. The first comes off an offensive rebound, a shot that leaves his hands as quickly as it arrives. Sebastian Telfair finds him in transition for the second — a pretty jumper Chris steps into at the top of the key as he trails the break. After that, Chris unfurls the full portfolio — a pretty pick-and-roll with Baron leading him to the block, a ridiculous reverse layup with his left along the baseline after sealing off Nathan Jawai, an easy jumper courtesy of a pin-down from Eric Gordon1, a nicely timed screen-roll set with Sebastian Telfair that gets him space at the left elbow, and a well-earned garbage putback.
On a night when he’s not locked in from long range and has no touch from the stripe, Eric Gordon scores 25 points on 20 possessions without a turnover. However unsightly Gordon’s 7-13 free throw numbers might be, it’s the 13 that’s important. His aggressiveness will be fully rewarded when his stroke from the line returns. His steal midway through the first quarter set into motion a cross-court ballet with Baron on the fast break, the visual highlight of the night (though Kaman’s reverse might rival it).
For a player who came into the league with limited familiarity of pick-and-roll basketball, Eric has become a willing partner. Watching him time his drive with Kaman’s perimeter screens (2nd, 11:30), then muscle his way past the mismatch and the help, offers a glimpse of a nice-looking future2. When you see the interior feed he delivers in traffic to a diving Camby (3rd, 3:43), you realize he’s becoming a bona fide triple-threat.
Minnesota has no orientation whatsoever to their defense. Like a lot of young units, the Wolves’ off-ball defenders overplay the strong side. There are moments when Baron is trapped in the right corner with two other defenders cheating that way (2nd, 3:50). Smart teams beg Baron to shoot from that distance, but for some reason the Wolves think they can beat the Clips by pressuring Davis. This dynamic is one reason Rasual Butler is able to find as many clean looks as he does against Wayne Ellington and Corey Brewer in the second quarter, and why the Clips are able to reverse the ball for easy shots at will.
Baron takes no fewer than half a dozen ill-advised shots, but his ability to probe, tease and toy with a young defense makes his gluttony from long-range forgivable, particularly on a night when the Clips win by 25. Baron’s collection of assists is impressive. If the Clippers get an easy bucket inside of eight feet, chances are Baron Davis recorded the assist.
Marcus Camby has a 4 x 5 night: 10 points, 18 boards, 6 dimes, 5 steals. There are teams in the upper third of the league that would love to get their hands on a productive, user-friendly vet with an expiring deal. At some point over the next nine weeks, the Clippers are going to have to make a very difficult choice, because they’re simply a better team when Camby is holding down the defensive interior and making plays from the top of the arc. When the Clippers demonstrate something that resembles a motion offense, it’s usually because Camby acts as the searchlight who can find objects in the dark.
1Dunleavy loves to use smalls to screen for bigs.
2Imagine what a couple hundred minutes of Gordon/Griffin working together in the halfcourt might look like.