New city, same show. Once again, the Baby Clips play hard enough to win, but make just enough mistakes to lose. Ideally, youth movements would be all high-flying athleticism and not so much momentum-killing turnovers and mental mistakes down the stretch, but tonight saw its fair share of both. The Clippers came back from 9 down midway through the fourth quarter, briefly holding a 2 point lead inside the final 2 minutes before a Michael Beasley floater with 2 seconds left finally buried them. It’s was easy to find silver linings when the Clippers were battling back, keeping it close, and coming up just short against the Western Conference’s elite teams. Tonight just felt like a game that should have been won.
Eric Gordon had yet another great game despite the continued absence of any semblance of a jump shot. He topped 25 points for the fifth consecutive game, finishing with 30 points, with the majority of it coming – as it has all season – from Gordon’s almost incessant attacking of the rim. He lived at the line again tonight, following up his career high 20 FT attempts Monday with another 13 tonight. He hit a couple of threes, including a big one in the fourth quarter to tie the game with the shot clock winding down, but still doesn’t look confident from the field. It’s amazing really. The Timberwolves were daring E.J. to shoot the three, sagging off him and clogging the lane, and he was still beating them to rim.
Blake Griffin put up his biggest first half yet, scoring 20 and grabbing 9 boards before the break. Griffin struggled to find his offense against New Jersey, and scored a season low 11 points. The Clippers used him mostly in the post Monday, but the truth is that Griffin is at his least effective with his back to the basket. Like a power running back hitting the line, Griffin needs to meets the defense at speed, and tonight the Clips did a much better job of finding Griffin in space and on the move. Really, it’s a testament to how good Griffin has been that he can finish with 26 and 17 (17!) and still leave the impression that he could have played a better game.
In the end, the Clippers just gave away too many fourth quarter possessions to win. Eric Gordon had the most turnovers, but Eric Bledsoe was the worst culprit. On nights when he’s deflecting passes and throwing no look alley-oops, Bledsoe’s exuberance makes him a joy to watch. Tonight, a little control would have been nice. He has a habit of grabbing a rebound (a pleasant change for a Clippers guard) and pushing the ball at break neck speed down the court, only to find himself alone and trapped under the basket. Sometimes, you get both Bledsoes on one play. With the Clippers down one in the fourth, Bledsoe picked Bassy Telfair’s pocket, drove down the lane, and instead of trying to make the lay up and probably getting fouled chose to pass the ball behind his back directly to the T-Wolves bench.
It was a high scoring game, mostly because both teams played a lot of terrible defense. The Clippers D has a Whack-A-Mole quality right now – they just can’t seem to get everything to gel at once. If the big men rotate quickly then no one contests jump shots. DeAndre and Blake have stay in front of the ball well, but neither has a great sense of the space left behind when he leaves the paint, allowing cutters to sneak in for backdoor passes. Eric Bledsoe either gets a hand on a pass… or over commits and leaves his man with an empty path to the basket. And the transition defense is just straight terrible.
- Michael Beasley looked more like Kobe Bryant than a bust tonight, springing for 33 points including the game winner. The scouting report on Beasley is that he can only go left, but a more accurate report might say “He can only go left and then make basically any shot.” I had no idea Beasley could shoot like that. There wasn’t any doubt that the Wolves final play would be run for Beasley, or that he would drain the shot.
- Eric Gordon’s work at point guard continues to be a mixed bag. He was at his best down the stretch, dishing 3 of his game high 7 assists during the run that saw the Clippers take the lead. Unfortunately, he also had five turnovers, at least two of which were completely unforced; Eric would pivot fast and the ball just wouldn’t come with him.
- Something for Robert Pack to mention, the next time he’s getting on his young guards: No more jump passes. The Clipper guards make way too many decisions after they’ve left the ground.
- Unlike Eric Bledsoe at the point, Al-Farouq Aminu isn’t starting because injuries have thinned the team out at his position. Aminu simply continues to look like the most talented small forward the Clippers have, scoring 17 points on 7-11 shooting. He was 3-5 from downtown, and, honestly, he might be the only Clipper right now taking open shots without any hesitation.
- DeAndre had the kind of quietly complete game that many fans wondered if he’d ever be able to turn in consistently. 7 rebounds, 11 points, all on put-backs and tap-ins, and a solid presence in the lane. Perhaps most impressively – just 2 fouls in 23 minutes.
- Both tonight and Monday against the Nets, the Clippers have been the team with the energy coming out of halftime. Last year’s team was notorious for its slow starts to second halves. As long as the Clippers continue to lose it’s small solace, but it’s nice to see that Del Negro has the team ready to play after the break.