Tonight’s recap was penned by Clipperblog contributor Sumner Widdoes.
The Clippers have a penchant – some might call it an addiction – for losing games in succession this season and, just like any addict, they continually find themselves having to relearn how to break the habit. It is not done simply by hoping one player catches fire or by playing particularly tough defense, but by maintaining the confidence to withstand the inevitable ebbs and flows of an NBA game. The ability to win games in this league comes from the assurance that your team is capable of doing so – an attitude of success. Tonight, after trudging through its longest, most hopeless losing streak of the season, the Clippers began to regain that attitude against one of the NBA’s hottest teams and left Staples with its 19th win at home this season.
The Clippers know they can beat the best teams in the NBA, they just forget it sometimes, as they did tonight for a frightening stretch at the end of the third quarter. But terrific guard play, steady frontcourt production and a phenomenal defensive strategy helped the leaders on the floor and on the bench remember that, yes, this team can play with the league’s best. Despite blowing a 14-point lead in just over six minutes, the Clippers opened up the fourth quarter on a 16-4 run and effectively put the game away with its baffling zone defense steady free throw shooting. Here’s how the whole thing went down:
- The first half marked the return of Chris Kaman. Well, at least the return of his midrange jumper and strong finishes at the rim. As Coach Hughes correctly predicted before the game, the Kaman-Andrew Bogut matchup was huge and offered a fascinating glimpse at what Chris could be if his confidence were always at its peak. Bogut does not have as refined a skill set as Kaman – certainly not the jump shot or power underneath the hoop. But what the Aussie does have is an assertive disposition. He makes his move to the hoop almost immediately after catching the ball, which caught Kaman off guard and helped Bogut score five of the Bucks’ first seven field goals tonight. Kaman, meanwhile, came out firing on the pick and roll and from 14-16 feet, but squandered a few scoring opportunities by dribbling too much on the block. Still, the Grand Kaman put up 20 points for the first time since March 3.
- At the same time, Baron Davis spent much of the first half abusing Brandon Jennings. Davis has controlled himself and the Clippers’ offense masterfully during the past few games and tonight he kept it going. Jennings lasted only seven minutes in the first quarter and five in the second as Davis initiated many of the offensive sets himself by dragging the rookie point guard into the low post and either bullying his way to the hoop or drawing double teams, from which he passed out easily to find open shooters. It all helped the Clips take a comfortable five-point halftime lead.
- The most troubling aspect of the Clippers’ late-third quarter collapse was not as much their on-ball defense as it was their immediate offensive response. As can happen in any NBA game, the opposing team’s best player got white hot, which, in tonight’s case, meant a lightning-fast lefty needed just a couple dribbles to free up enough space for an easy jump shot. But after the Clippers called a timeout following consecutive Jennings threes at [5:33, Q3] while still holding an eight-point lead, the team’s subsequent three possessions were a relapse to their losing streak ways: A rushed three from Gordon in the corner that he was not ready to take, a missed 19-foot baseline fade away from Davis and a turnover from Kaman after fumbling the offensive rebound. The Clippers would score just two more points the rest of the quarter and begin the 4th trailing, 74-72.
- That’s when Kim Hughes made the case to keep his job past April 14. The Clippers opened up the fourth quarter in a zone defense that simply stumped the Bucks. The lineup of Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, Rasual Butler, DeAndre Jordan and Craig Smith had three steals and held the Bucks to two points during the first five minutes of the quarter. After Smith’s steal and foul at the rim at [9:15, Q4], the Rhino let out a grunt that brought the entire Clipper bench to its feet. The Bucks could not get the ball into the paint, settling for jumpers in what looked like a series of completely unsettled offensive sets, and fell behind by ten at [5:13,Q4].
- The Clippers made seven of eight free throws to close out the game. Quite a welcome sight after some of the dismal performances from the line during the most recent losing streak, a streak that the team is still relearning how to forget.
One more note about DeAndre Jordan: If the coaching staff has any honest intention of evaluating this young man’s game and helping him improve, it must give him an opportunity to succeed on the floor, not simply put him on the court. At the [9:12,Q2] mark, Drew Gooden entered the game for Jordan. At the time, the Clippers trailed, 30-29, and the lethargic yet sturdy Kurt Thomas was guarding Jordan. Is there any better time to give the kid some quality touches? Thomas committed three fouls in the next three-and-a-half minutes and promptly found himself back on the bench, utterly helpless in defending the quicker Gooden or Craig Smith. It would have been nice to see Jordan try a post move or two that he has surely been working on in practice against such a stationary defender.