What would Eric Gordon look like if he were quicker, 3 inches taller, and a better ballhandler? Surely he’d look like a perennial All-Star with an unstoppable offensive game. Surely he’d resemble the recurring player that pops up in all of Mike Dunleavy’s better dreams. But do you know what this hypothetical monstrous version of Gordon would really look like?
He’d look just like Tyreke Evans.
For those of you who hven’t been able to watch Tyreke Evans compete this year — you’re missing out. Evans is a frightening new breed of guard with a blazingly fast first step and the ability to jump from zero-to-sixty faster than you can blurt out your favorite profanity. Team that with the lax handcheck rules, an incredibly muscular frame, and the height to finish in the trees and you’ve got yourself one special player. The best example of Evans general freakishness is how easily he blasts through the Clippers iso-set defense with the clock running down late [0:04, 3rdQ]. With the exception of Roy, Wade, and LeBron, that’s a jumpshot situation for just about everyone in the league.
Eric Gordon drawing the defensive assignment to this freight train of a player serves as a nice reminder of the gauntlet Gordon must run through as a defender at the 2 spot. The Evans – Gordon matchup is fascinating despite their respective teams appearing lottery bound. Evans is the future at guard in Sacramento just like Gordon is in Los Angeles, and their mano y mano battle tonight is likely the first of many to come.
One of Gordon’s biggest defensive strengths is his lateral quickness. Evans spends most of the first half deferring to Omri Casspi to create and score, but when Evans does try and attack off pick and rolls Gordon does a nice job of staying low and acting as a proverbial speed bump. The defense behind Gordon is what matters most, and it’s smart most of the night — Chris Kaman and DeAndre Jordan are regularly seen making their presence known around the free throw line area. Like a good safety in football, the Clippers bigs cheat up and over towards Gordon to ensure that he’s never left alone on an island with Evans. The defensive focus in the first half and a somewhat tentative Evans help the Clippers jump out to a 60-45 halftime lead.
With the Kings halfcourt offense not producing, Evans takes it upon himself to attack in transition before the Clippers backline can get set and rotate. With a head of steam and some momentum the assignment suddenly shifts from manageable to nearly impossible. Evans gets the majority of his 11 points in the third quarter off transition opportunities, with the most impressive being the layups in under four seconds and six seconds on the shot clock.
Evans is great in the third, but it’s the Eric Gordon show in the fourth. With the lead cut to six, the Staples crowd eerily silent, and the pendulum swinging in the Kings favor, Gordon snatches all the momentum back with a emphatic two handed jam in traffic for the bucket and the foul [10:03, 4Q]. Gordon follows up the next possession [8:14, 4Q] by receiving the ball on the right wing, jab-stepping left and going hard at the rim. Andres Nocioni, widely renowned for his ability to draw offensive fouls and general dirtiness, attempts to slide over and underneath the leaping Gordon to take the charge. Nocioni is much too late however, and Gordon is able to center himself in mid-air and finish with the contact for the and-1. Gordon’s next bucket comes from a page out of the Dunleavy playbook [7:39, 4Q]. Gordon starts on the right wing and initiates a dribble hand-off with Steve Blake. Gordon then darts across the three point line to the opposite wing, where he receives a high off ball screen from Chris Kaman. The screen gets just enough of Gordon’s defender and he’s freed up for a 26-foot three ball that’s true.
The scoring outburst from Gordon opens up the entire halfcourt offense. Kaman’s layup at [6:16, 4Q] is a direct result of the Kings’ help defense over compensating for Gordon. With Gordon ballhandling on the left wing, the pass to Kaman at the free throw line presents itself easily and Kaman only needs two dribbles to get to the rim and score. The very next set at [5:35, 4Q] is designed to be a Gordon/Kaman pick and roll, but Kaman slips and pops to the elbow where he’s wide open for an easy 16-footer. The next time down [4:28, 4Q] Gordon takes it right at Tyreke Evans, draws the foul, and flips up a shot that careens off the glass and falls in. It’s yet another and-1 for Gordon who finishes with 14 fourth quarter points and a season-high 30 for the game. The final bucket and harm puts the Clippers lead at 18 with 4:28 to play – far too much for the Kings and their mightmarish cover of a guard to overcome.