Going into this game, the 6-0 Hornets had been playing their best basketball in the third quarter and the 1-6 Clippers had been playing their worst. Eric Gordon couldn’t play tonight because of the lingering effects of his shoulder stinger and Baron Davis came back, not because he was healthy but because the team needed him in limited minutes. None of that spells a Clipper win.
It didn’t get any easier when the Clippers played horrendously to open the first quarter, punctuating their bad play with bad luck. Chris Kaman went down with an ankle sprain. While that should have meant that Blake would step up and take down the Hornets, it only meant that he became overaggressive and drew too many fouls, leading to him finishing with his worst night as a pro so far, 10 points and 6 rebounds. And it wasn’t just his fault, the entire offense looked terrible tonight.
While some of it can be credited to the Hornets and their new defensive mindset (they rotate very well, especially their big men), the Clippers just looked a bit lost on offense. Any bit of momentum that they gained in the last three games, three games where they scored in the triple digits, they obviously lost in this one. They didn’t have Gordon to penetrate and open up shots for the rest of the players. It seemed to especially affect Blake as he wasn’t getting the same looks on screen and rolls and was crowded in the post (especially after the Clips lost Kaman). Even still, he just looked out of sync.
On one play DeAndre had a massive unDeAndre-like block, in that he didn’t swat it out of bounds but blocked it to Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe immediately started the break and like everyone else watching expected to see a crazy Blake slam. The defenders covered Bledsoe and he dropped it off to a streaking Blake Griffin who promptly dribbled it off his foot and out of bounds. It just wasn’t his night.
Really, the offensive momentum only came in when Baron was subbed in at the end of the first quarter and the team went on a 8-3 run and eventually made it a game. The best play was when DeAndre rebounded the ball and gave a quick outlet pass to Baron, who threw a frozen rope to the bright spot of the night, Al-Farouq Aminu for two.
Farouq was by far the best thing going for the Clippers tonight, scoring 20 points on 7 for 10 shooting and ripping down 8 boards. He even did the majority of his damage in the third quarter when the Clippers, yes, the Clippers surged back to within three points (before letting the lead balloon back out to 10 points). But a team with one bench player playing well is not going to handle an undefeated team.
The Hornets pushed their way back, getting great minutes from new reserves Jerryd Bayless and Willie Green in the second half. Bayless scored 15 points and doled out 9 assists while sweet shooting Willie Green poured in 19 points on 7 for 10 shooting. The Clippers had no way of stopping them. Not only did they miss Gordon’s offense, but they sorely missed his perimeter defense as well.
By the fourth quarter, the Clippers had spent their last surge and instead of crawling back into the game one last time, they let the lead quickly swell to 20 before they were finished off by 19. None of the Hornets starters played more than 30 minutes (except Emeka Okafor) if that gives any indication of how worried the Hornets were, or how much pressure the Clippers exerted on them. Hopefully, Gordon will be back tomorrow night against the Spurs and they’ll be able to, if not win the game, at least look decent.