Coming off uniquely heartbreaking losses to two of the best teams in the league in the Lakers and Cleveland, the Clippers looked susceptible to playing victim to the infamous trap game. Aggression tends to be the key for a team wanting to avoid the dreaded letdown game. Counter-punch and let a team stay in the fight, and they might land a few haymakers late and pull off an upset.
“That’s been our problem the whole season”, Gordon said. “Whenever we play a good team, the majority of the time we beat them, but whenever we play subpar teams we tend to play at their level, have it be a close game, and sometimes lose at the end.”
Luckily today for the Clippers, the Nets don’t offer much in the way of defensive resistance and allow the Clips to practically get whatever looks they want.
Gordon leads the charge early with his aggressiveness on the offensive end. In the last three games Gordon has become noticeably more assertive — he’s penetrating against off balance defenders and pushing the pace on the break more often. Gordon’s tying his career high in assists for a game (7) didn’t come today by accident or dumb luck — his attacking off the dribble, particularly early in the shot clock, put him in position to be a distributor against scrambling defenses.
“I’m just trying to be more of a playmaker, that’s all”, Gordon said. “I’m still a combo guard now, just like I was in college.”
Gordon isn’t the only one today struck with the sharing mood. In the first quarter (when the game is virtually decided), the Clippers post an impressive 13 assists on 16 made field goals, and perhaps more importantly, zero turnovers. The number balloons to a final total of 17 turnovers by the time the game is over, but the Clippers are crisp and efficient when it counts.
Craig Smith rattles off his third straight double-digit point game (14 points) by diving with reckless abandon to the hoop on a variety of pick and roll sets. Smith had a rough stretch earlier in the year where he wasn’t producing offensively, but he appears to be back in the regular rotation for now. Smith’s chemistry with Telfair was evident from all the way back in preseason, but there’s a developing relationship on the court between him and Baron as well.
When asked which two teammates he would take into a 3-on-3 battle, Smith answered with no hesitation.
“I’d definitely take Sebastian, and I’d take Baron”, Smith said. “We could do some damage.”
Smith obviously sees the importance of having a good relationship with the guys who feed him the ball. Smith’s offensive game is built around a mysterious combination of moves, but it’s his value as a screener and that relationship with his guards that enable him to have so much success. DeAndre Jordan and Marcus Camby aren’t much in the pick and roll, but Smith always clears out his attended target and usually times his roll perfectly. He’s a legitimate offensive weapon.
The Clippers overall aggressiveness as a team tonight can be seen in their free throw totals. The Clips went to the line 29 times for the game, and shot almost exclusively from the paint in the second quarter.
The increased pace today worked to the Clippers benefit, but the wing players’ tendencies to leak out may eventually start to take its toll. Against the Nets it may not hurt you so much, but tonight Rasual Butler and Baron Davis combine for 1 rebound in 66 combined minutes when there were plenty of misses to go around. It’s hard nitpick in such a convincing victory, but the habits being developed by the Clippers’ backcourt are a little worrisome. Take away Marcus Camby and the Clippers would find themselves on the bad end of the rebounding margin most every night.
Having Chris Kaman back covers a lot of weak points for the Clippers. When Marcus Camby checks out of the game, Chris Kaman operates at the high post and stretches the defense with his midrange jumper which is true most of the night. Without Kaman, Camby is the only big that can operate efficiently at the high post. Kaman’s return today re-establishes the much needed harmony and flow to the Clippers’ halfcourt game.