With an ignominious start to the season, the Clippers had to try and right the ship against a big Mavericks team. Unfortunately, they were overmatched by the Mavericks. The most notable bruising came from whoever was guarding Caron Butler as he repeatedly drew quick fouls on Ryan Gomes and Farouq Aminu. On top of Caron getting the team in foul trouble, the starters shot the ball terribly, especially Kaman and Blake. Those two went 9 for 30 from the field. Not good.
They came out in the first half looking still a bit disjointed and let the Mavericks run out to an early lead. Eric Gordon was cold, Baron was penetrating but couldn’t find open shots nor could he find open teammates. On the other end, Caron Butler abused whoever was on him, drew two fouls on Gomes in the first 6 minutes that forced Farouq into the game and then Caron drew a couple quick ones on Farouq as well. This game looked like it was going to quickly turn into the 3rd quarter meltdown against the Warriors.
Because of Randy Foye’s injured ankle, Eric Bledsoe came in to spell Baron Davis. At first he didn’t contribute and didn’t look comfortable. He ran at a faster pace than the rest of the team and was out of sync. He made a terrible pass to Farouq, completely airballed a three and traveled as he went to the rim. I will say his first quick foul was extremely impressive, he got really close to blocking Caron Butler. What was so impressive about the foul was the fact that he was so much higher than Caron despite being a half of a foot shorter and being nowhere near the play when he started up.
Bledsoe did settle down though. It started when he intercepted a pass intended for J.J. Barea and ran through a stretch where he had a couple nice floaters, one at the elbow another just off the low block. He ran the bench well (evidenced by their +/- numbers, Bledsoe +9, Rasual +10, DeAndre +9, Farouq +5, Smith +8) and got the Clippers back into the game. The crowd even roused when DeAndre had a monster dunk at the beginning of the second quarter. The momentum was in place for the team to win.
The starters even maintained the momentum, taking the lead. And they would have had a lead at the half if it weren’t for Jason Kidd’s Jerry Westian 60 foot heave to beat the buzzer.
The Clippers had plenty of reason to come out firing in the third quarter, but that didn’t happen at all. Instead, the starters reverted back to their play like they did in the first quarter. Caron Butler continued to go to the hoop and draw fouls on Gomes and Aminu, and the lackluster shooting of the starting unit continued, leading to a double digit deficit.
Unfortunately, when the bench came in, they couldn’t work the same magic that they did in the first half. Not that they worsened the lead, they only maintained the status quo. Bledsoe made an open jumper in that period even though he didn’t look all that comfortable taking it, but he didn’t have the same playmaking that he did in the first half.
When the Clippers starting unit came back in, the 12 point deficit slowly grew. There were some highlights, like a Baron/Blake screen and roll that resulted in a high Blake alleyoop but it was clear that the game was over.
Going forward, the Clippers have a lot of work to do. The entire starting lineup shot the ball poorly. Part of it was just missing shots but there was another part where they weren’t moving without the ball well, the offense was stagnant, even Baron’s penetrations seemed stagnant as he rarely got any good looks for himself or for anyone else. Blake and Kaman need to figure out how their going to work in the post, because both of them are more than adequate passers and solid offensive threats in their own right. They should be able to figure out how to maximize each other’s abilities instead of hampering each other.
Considering last year’s defensive problems it’s surprising that that isn’t the issue. This team needs to get the ball to go in the basket. Even Eric Gordon struggled tonight, going 1 for 6 from three and failing to reach double digits. So part of it was just an anomaly. I saw the Clippers miss wide open looks that they would normally make.
What they need to do is make sure that the downer of losing a third consecutive game doesn’t infect the spark that the bench provided. In the locker room after the game there was a morose atmosphere. No one was smiling and there’s good reason why, but the play of the bench needs to be noted. This is a team that has to build on every positive because they are so new, each accomplishment. I thought Aminu showed promise as he continues to learn. In each of his stints guarding Caron, he picked up quick fouls but then he settled down and made some nice stops.
“You have to play him honest becasue he’s always trying to draw contact. The vets don’t cheat,” Aminu said. “I was trying to do too much and I should have just played him honest.”
That sounds like the words of a very aware rookie. He knows he’s going have challenges and there is opportunity for improvement. He’ll make some turnovers like when he threw a pass into Marion’s arms, caught it and then had it blocked to cause a shot clock violation, but he’s really going to help the second unit more than he hurts it this year.
Another bright spot from the bench was DeAndre Jordan. He shot the ball well (4 for 6), Shot free-throws well (for him, he went 2 for 3), grabbed 5 rebounds, came up with a steal and blocked two shots and he didn’t turn the ball over in his 19 minutes of play. I like this DeAndre. Granted on one of his blocked shots he swatted it out of play even though he could have easily corralled it, but he looked like a solid, if not offensive-oriented center.
The team is obviously downtrodden, it’s a horrible way to start the year, losing three in a row, but they’ll have the Spurs in LA tomorrow night with another opportunity to win. Not the easiest task going up against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu, but this isn’t the 2003 Spurs and the Clippers just needs something a bit of luck to turn them around.