I know, I know. The Clippers lost again. They’re 1-13, they made Danilo Gallinari look like Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire look like the second best power forward alive. I say that because Blake looked like the best power forward in the game. Right now. He scored 44 points on 14 for 24 shooting, pulled down 15 rebounds, dished out 7 assists, had two steals and a blocked shot. But as amazing as those numbers are, they don’t even come close to detailing what is the best dunking performance I have ever seen in person, and may be the best dunking show I’ve ever seen ever. I know that sports are about winning, but there come times when someone transcends winning (as depressing as that sounds) and flat out entertains. Tonight was one of those nights.
This dunk was off a scattered play in the second. Pretty good, right?
Consider: a few minutes into the third quarter and Blake found himself on the baseline with a shot to the rim, if he could get over the Knicks center Timofey Mozgov:
And here, let’s check out what Blake does on Eric Gordon’s miss (also over Mozgov, who apparently reads before games to calm himself down. The Knicks sideline reporter, Tina Cervasio sat next to me and told me that at the moment Mozgov is reading a book titled Rubashka which translates to “Shirt.” Apparently, it’s a romance novel. Out of a country with such literary greats as Tolstoy, Doestoevsky, Nabakov, Bulgakov and Erofeev, the book I hear Mozgov reading is a romance novel. Probably why he’s let Blake and EJ paw all over him tonight. He may change his reading material soon before he turns into the next Frederic Weiss):
Here, Blake is out in transition and spin move with Gallo on his hip and rose up (I swear I could see his face through the backboard glass) to rim level and he plunged that ball through the hoop.
What’s unbelievable about all of this is that there was an MVP chant for Blake at the end of the 4th quarter, when the game was pretty much sealed for the Knicks and the Clippers have only won one game this entire year.
While, I’m still reveling in the greatness of Blake’s play tonight, it will, like everything else in history, fade away and become a statistic and arcane highlights. What remains is that the Clippers lost again and, other than Blake’s sustained greatness, it was more or less of the same things that have confounded the Clippers.
Prior to the game, VDN spoke about the tendencies of a young team, saying that a young team often lets its defensive intensity be reflective of their offensive performance. But tonight showed that this was anything but the case. The Clippers shot 54.4 percent, 7 for 15 from three and 75 percent from the free throw line. All of those are higher than normal, so with VDN’s logic, you’d suspect the Clippers did well on defense.
Not the case.
Part of it is VDN’s fault as matchups were questionable. Starting the game, he had, for some unknown reason, Eric Gordon and Ryan Gomes switch assignments on the defensive end. Seems to make sense in a purely Clipper related vacuum, Eric is a much better defender than Gomes. However, this doesn’t work the same way when put into this game because it meant that EJ had to cover Danilo Gallinari rather than Landry Fields. Gallinari doesn’t have much of an attacking game, so no matter how good of a defender he has, if that defender is 7 inches shorter than him, it’s barely going to affect his game. I know that Gordon has the best ability to cover men, make up ground when there are the corner threes, but it wasn’t even important whether Gordon got there. Gallinari just shot jumper over jumper over Gordon like he was in his driveway being guarded by his little brother. It was ridiculous. I had no idea what VDN was thinking by employing this strategy.
Another perplexing match up included subbing Brian Cook in to try and cover Amar’e Stoudemire. For the start of the game, that was Blake’s cover and Blake still played when Cook came in. In Cook’s defense, he did draw one charge on Amar’e, however Cook just doesn’t have the physical tools that would make him a capable defender on Stoudemire. He’s a lumbering, perimeter 4 who can barely play any defense, let alone on one of the premier offensive big men in the game. It was pathetic. What makes it so indefensible is that Blake wasn’t even close to foul trouble when I noticed this consistent cover. BG had one foul only in the second quarter, and yet VDN repeatedly left BG to cover Ronny Turiaf instead. Maybe this is just wrong, but wouldn’t Aminu have been better suited to guard Stoudemire? One of the more difficult things for Aminu coming into the NBA is that he can’t quite figure out ball screens and when to leave his man, but he’s athletic enough and he tries hard enough that he might do a better job than Cook. Or it might not have mattered at all tonight, on a night when Stoudemire went for 39 points. It was so hellish that at points in the second half, the Clippers even covered him with DeAndre Jordan and everyone knows DeAndre is not meant to be guarding perimeter-ish power forwards. He will just get eaten alive, which is exactly what happened with Amar’e. One play just made it perfectly clear. The clock ran just under 6 minutes left in the second quarter and Amar’e got the ball on the high block. Cookie faced him up and played, to his best ability, defense. Only Amar’e is so much faster and bouncier that he just moseyed to the baseline with Cook following him until he routinely banked in a 2 footer. It was just too easy. There wasn’t any of the thrashing and driving needed to get around Blake. Three dribbles to the right and Stoudemire had it.
Rotations and communication also continue to be an issue, which is one of the large reasons that opposing teams’ small forwards are killing the Clippers. No, Danilo Gallinari and Charlie Villanueva are not as good as the Clippers have made them out to be. The small forward, just like with the Clippers, is often the player that is in the corner shooting the three/receiving the last pass. So with a team full of confused youngsters, that last player can get some really, really great looks. Danilo Gallinari had all kinds of open looks tonight, one of which came at 8:07 in the second quarter right after Willie Warren went coast to coast for a lay up. On the way back, which shouldn’t even have been a transition type situation since the Clippers scored on the Warren layup, Eric Gordon was calling for someone to take Gallo so that he could help with Bill Walker in the corner, only no one was listening to him and Gallinari had a rec-league open three pointer which he swished. The Clippers don’t seem intent on changing any of this, and so it’s hard to believe that they are going to get much better any time soon, because over the course of the game, they repeatedly let players, like Gallinari, get open looks.
Another frustrating part about this is that neither Baron or Kaman are especially good defenders so it’s not like they are going to change any of this when they return from injury (which, as it sounds now, will be the end of next weekend).
This was the Clippers best offensive game by far, mostly due to Blake Griffin’s demolition of the New York Knicks interior defense, but also there were a few efficient games. Notably, Randy Foye had his first solid game as a Clipper. He didn’t get off to much of a start because of his hamstring, but tonight he looked like more than a decent role players. He scored 14 points in 19 minutes on 6 for 10 shooting. Some of his minutes came playing alongside Eric Bledsoe, so he wasn’t the primary ball handler, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that he only had one assist. He did have two turnovers right when he got into the game (a sloppy dribble that Raymond Felton picked off and an overthrown outlet pass to Blake Griffin that sailed out of bounds), but he settled down and played well in his last 16 or so minutes. Maybe he just needs to shake the rust off.
Turnovers weren’t specific to Foye though. Bledsoe had 5 and Griffin had 4 (his one bad stat of the night) and the Clippers had 7 more total than the Knicks. Strangely, those seven can be accounted for just by looking at the steals numbers of Raymond Felton. I swear, he had seven steals. It’s not like he’s Chris Paul or John Wall here, he doesn’t steal the ball nearly as much as those two, yet when he plays the Clippers he turns into John Stockton or Gary Payton.
VDN’s offense is heavily reliant on pick and roll, which is fine. I really like the combo of Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin running that together. That said, the Clippers’ offense is really stagnant if one of those two can’t find the bottom of the net, there aren’t a lot of good third and fourth options. That’s because the defense rarely has to do anything but sit on the strong side because the offense doesn’t pass the ball around much. If it’s going to one side, it stays there. On one play, the Clippers were looking to get Ryan Gomes involved and they posted him up on the low block. Only, he doesn’t have a great post game and there weren’t any cutters so he couldn’t do anything. He was stuck. And because they initiate the offense so late, on one of the only times I saw the ball touch all 5 Clippers hands, it resulted in a DeAndre Jordan shot clock violation as he dunked the ball (not his fault, didn’t have time to shoot even).
ALL TOGETHER NOW:
The team still doesn’t look anywhere close to cohesive and so it’s not surprising that the Clippers let another team get out in front of them in the third quarter. Even with all the Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin dunks, the Clippers were still outplayed in the third. The third quarter was different than normal. It wasn’t a lackluster play, it was hard fought but the Clippers continued to lose. I’m reminded of a tweet/chat remark that KA made the other days. It was something to the effect of “Clippers Basketball. In the last three minutes the Clippers have done three things that are positive and yet they’re down six.” That’s how it feels the Clippers played, especially in the third. There was a sequence where both Blake and Eric had back to back dunks but on the other end, no one covered for them so Amar’e easily answered both of those baskets. The Clippers did turn in some spectacular moments, and got the lead to within 5 in the third, but they always have the shown the tendency to let the air out of the balloon. The same thing happens in the fourth quarter as well. The great play of the third quarter didn’t change the lead, but they still played hard and whittled the lead away, unfortunately, they just don’t have the offensive or defensive abilities to win games.
With all this going on, and seeing that even a Herculean effort from Blake won’t get the Clippers to win, it just begs to ask, well who’s in the draft? The Clippers look more likely to be racing Minnesota for worst record rights and the most ping pong balls to get Harrison Barnes than putting together even a semblance of a decent season. Hopefully, it will be like the Oklahoma City Thunder where they have the couple bad years before it gets good, but they’ll need coaching help to do that.