If tonight’s game felt familiar to you, there’s a reason for that. You’ve played in this game before.
Let me explain. From the arc of the game right down to some of the characters in it, tonight’s matchup felt a lot like a glorified pickup game.
Take Corey Maggette for example. Ever play with someone that calls every single foul? Even if he’s the one that charges in to you at full speed? Well, that’s Maggette. He does his bull in the china shop routine and completely ignores teammates once he puts the ball on the deck. Everyone hates playing with the guy who calls every foul, and I have a hard time seeing anyone getting any joy out of playing basketball with Corey Maggette. To wit, Maggette went into full blown black hole mode en route to a three-for-16 performance from the field tonight.
Baron Davis is that guy who has the most talent on the floor, but there’s always something missing. Whether it’s his jumper or his defense, there’s always something that you can point to with him and say “that’s the reason why he’s not elite.” Tonight, Baron plays as close to a perfect half of basketball as possible, going seven-for-10 from the field for 19 points, five rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers. But then Baron injures his wrist late in the first half, and he eventually has to leave the game because of it. It’s a shame. Even when Baron does everything right, something eventually goes wrong.
With Eric Gordon, Drew Gooden, Travis Outlaw, Craig Smith, and Baron Davis all out of action, the pressure fell squarely on the shoulders of Chris Kaman (or, the one guy taller than everyone else) to lead his team offensively. Kaman responded well against the Warriors small front line, scoring easily throughout the game on the inside and totaling 27 points on the evening.
Steve Blake plays the role of gym rat tonight, logging an outrageous 46 minutes due to the Clips being shorthanded at guard. It’s always fascinating to watch players like Blake in the midst of chaos. Blake’s that guy that passes, cuts, screens away from the ball and all that other nonsense. It looks out of place at the park, and it looks out of place at Staples tonight.
There are a couple of funny moments in the fourth quarter of this one. Devean George brushes off the cobwebs to hit a few shots, and both times he runs down court screaming and pumping his fists. It’s hard to tell if he’s being sarcastic — I have no idea how serious of a person Devean George is, but it’s hard not to picture George as the ridiculous old dude down at the park who once a month turns back the clock and hits a few shots and simply has to let everyone know about it. Between George’s theatrics and the slightly insane enthusiasm of Ronny Turiaf, the Warriors at least provide entertainment value down the stretch.
The Clippers win this one behind the late game scoring of Rasual Butler (or, that guy who tries to do way too much) and DeAndre Jordan (that one kid that can dunk). After three straight buckets right at the rim by Jordan, Butler knocks down a mid-range jumper and then a big three to pull the Clippers within one at the 6:22 mark of the fourth quarter.
From there, the game plays out like both teams are locked up at game point. Suddenly, the defense ratchets up about 40 notches, and the previous Laissez-faire approach to defense goes out the window. Mike Smith actually mentions at the three minute mark that the “next bucket wins.” He’s referring to Lawler’s Law of course, but you could have fooled me.
The play of the game comes in the clutch at the [2:02, 4thQ] mark. Chris Kaman gets the ball on the left block, and DeAndre Jordan ambles over to the left wing to act as a kickout for Kaman should he get in trouble. Aside from the hilarity of DeAndre Jordan acting as a spot up shooter with Kaman having the ball in the post, the play works wonderfully. After looking confused for a bit, Jordan gives a quick basket cut and Kaman delivers a beautiful pass (!) to Jordan for the easy dunk. The Clips lead goes to five, and they hang on the rest of the way.
April basketball for the Warriors and Clippers isn’t much different from the pickup game for us regular scrubs. The more experienced players on both sides won’t remember this game for any reason, as it will just blend into the thousands of other games they’ve played. Neither team cares much about the result really, as wins and losses don’t really matter at this point.
But then there’s the kid who can dunk. He isn’t experienced yet, so these wins mean something. It’s confidence. It’s matching the second highest total for rebounds in your career (15). It’s a game deciding bucket. Maybe to the bitter veteran those things don’t mean anything, but you don’t survive as a young player in the NBA if you don’t enjoy the small victories when they come your way.