Last night in New Orleans, Dain Blanton compared the Clippers to a one-armed juggler, and the description was apt again tonight. They were beyond undermanned, with Eric Gordon, Baron Davis, Randy Foye, and Chris Kaman all out with injuries; Brian Cook, Willie Warren, and Jarron Collins all played serious minutes. Once again, despite the makeshift lineup, the Clippers managed to keep the game interesting longer than might be expected, fighting back into the game every time the Spurs threatened to pull away. Similar to last night’s game against the Hornets, it never seriously felt like the Clippers could really win this game, even when they cut the lead to three midway through the fourth. In the end, the team just didn’t have either the weapons of the experience to beat the Spurs in San Antonio, and had to settle for yet another in a wearying series of moral victories.
The 2010 draft class continues to be the story of the road trip. The thinned out backcourt meant that Willie Warren saw extended time tonight for the first time, and like Bledsoe and Aminu before him, he showed a poise that belied his inexperience. Credit Vinny Del Negro and his staff. Bledsoe, Aminu, and Warren all came into the season with “project” tags to varying degrees – and certainly there have been a handful of bad turnovers and poor shots – but you wouldn’t know it to watch them play. All three have a confident sureness on the court that you don’t always see in NBA rookie. Shawn Livingston played half a season without looking as sure-handed as Warren looked in his brief time tonight. I don’t know if Neil Olshey is drafting for moxie, or Del Negro has instilled it in his players, or it’s just a happy coincidence, but the early returns on the 2010 draft are promising.
Griffin struggled for the second straight game. Perhaps it was the Spurs relative familiarity with Griffin – this was the third time they’ve seen him in a month, including the game in Mexico City – but this was by far the most effective defense Griffin has faced this season. DeJuan Blair and Antonio McDyess fought Griffin in the paint all night, refusing to allow him to set up in the low post, and keeping him far enough away from the basket so that help from a wing defender was always just a few steps away. As soon as he caught the ball at the elbow, two Spurs were on him. At times tonight, he seemed stymied and frustrated, but I also wondered if he didn’t also look a little tired from his first two weeks of an NBA season. He’s been less active on the offensive glass the last two games, and the above-the-rim highlights he seemed to be creating quarterly in the first five or six games haven’t been there. It could just be the extra attention he gets without Kaman on the floor. Or he could be a little fatigued. Something to watch, anyway.
At any rate, the one-armed juggling act returns to the Staples Center on Friday to face Detroit. This is the first soft spot in the Clips schedule. After starting the season with a brutal 9 games again 7 playoff teams plus undefeated New Orleans and 5-3 Golden State, the Clippers next five are against the Pistons, Nets, Timberwolves, Pacers, and Knicks – scufflers each and every one. With Gordon and Baron both probable to return during the home stand, it’s essential that the Clippers get a few wins before the schedule toughens up again.
A few notes on individual Clips:
- Bledsoe played better than his line in the box score might indicate. He shot 5 for 15 from the field and turned the ball over another 3 times, but he was the key to the Clippers final run in the fourth quarter, particularly on the defensive end, where his pressure caused far more havoc than the single steal the box score credits him.
- How do these scouting reports become accepted truths? All we heard about Aminu all summer was what an ugly jump shot he has, and it’s just simply not true. And don’t tell me it’s something he’s been working on since the summer or whatever. A smooth shot like that is not new in the past three months. Also, that first step on those drives from the three point line is nasty. He is going to be a very good player.
- The only thing worse than Brian Cook missing a shot is Brian Cook making a shot, because it guarantees that Brian Cook will be taking another shot. Isn’t there someone in the D-League who plays good defense, crashes the boards, and defers on offense?
- Bledsoe, Aminu, and Warren all played excellent and disruptive defense again tonight. Their energy was the key to understanding why the Clippers were not blown out tonight.
- Ryan Gomes looked better tonight, but he’s still passing up the open shot too much. His job is to take open threes. Period.