Eric Gordon had just sliced by the Lakers defenders and dumped off a pass to DeAndre Jordan for a dunk and the lead. Then Gordon fouled Kobe, on the floor, and forced the Lakers to take it out of bounds with only three seconds left. Derek Fisher picks the ball up at the top of the key and, for a moment, there is a sigh of relief. The ball didn’t go to Kobe and Fisher isn’t taking a jumper. As he’s going to the cup, there is no one else open. He’ll have to shoot a prayer, because Fisher going to the rim is a prayer. Inside of 10 feet, he consistently shoots below 40 percent, this season he’s at 35.7 percent. Isn’t that one of the better shots the Clippers can allow? Unfortunately, for Clipper fans, Derek Fisher charmed up some of his old clutch magic and banked home the game winner.
It shouldn’t have come down to that though. The Clippers lead by as much as 12 with 2:30 left in the 3rd quarter. Even with Blake Griffin struggling against the length of Pau and Lamar as well as the strength of Ron Artest, the Clippers found headway with Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe as well as some bench lift from Butler and Ryan Gomes. It was partly due to Pau’s fatigue, but DeAndre held Pau to 10 points on 4 for 13. Not a good night for Pau. Additionally, Kobe hadn’t gone off, and the Clippers were playing solid defense. For once the opponents weren’t shooting the lights out from three. So what happened?
First, the Lakers brought in Shannon Brown, he of dunking fame. However, Brown has worked on his game considerably and has become one of the better sixth men this year. Tonight, he showed why, immediately making his mark by drilling a jumper and a three, both off of Gasol passes to cut the lead to 7. The Clippers then got an alley-oop from Farouq to DeAndre to extend the lead to 9.
That’s when the second thing happened, the Clippers subbed in Baron Davis. After Shannon Brown sunk another three (to put himself at NBA Jam level “on fire”) possibly the worst good thing happened to the Clippers. With the quarter running down, Baron Davis did his 2008 GSW shake and bake for a three and he made it. He brought the lead back up to 9, but Baron turning into a scorer is dangerous. Still, if Baron is making those threes, then isn’t it the Clippers night?
Nope. For the third time this season, an opposing player made a 60+ heave at the buzzer. Shannon Brown joined the same company as Ty Lawson and Jason Kidd and the momentum from that miracle shot continued into the beginning of the 4th. Within the first minute, the Lakers got a made layup from Matt Barnes and a Steve Blake three to bring the game to one. Not only that, but Baron thought that making one impossible shot meant that he could jack up another abomination of a three. It was one of the worst threes I’ve ever seen (although Ron Artest had one that was almost as miserable).
Baron forgets so quickly that he has the talent to help the team as long as he focuses on passing. But what does he do? In his 14 minutes, he hoists 5 shots, only making that one prayer. By the time he’s pulled from the game, the Clippers were down 1. In that 5 minutes 26 seconds of play, the Clippers went from up 9 to down 1. Now, he shouldn’t get all the blame, The defense could have been better and Rasual and Blake weren’t making shots, but the energy of the game completely shifted. What had worried me was that after Baron played well against the Spurs and the Nuggets, he would get the confidence to change his play into scoring Baron. Tonight was just another bit of evidence that scoring Baron is not good Baron.
When Gordon and Bledsoe came back in the game, the game quickly shifted. In those last 7 and a half minutes, Gordon went for 9 points (2 threes, he looks like he’s back!) and 2 assists, one being the drop off to DeAndre for the dunk and the lead.
But down the stretch there were mistakes by the Baron-less Clippers. Blake had one of the more unforgivable goofs when he got the rebound of his first free throw and immediately shot it back up in frustration. Had there not been a delay of game earlier, there would have been no penalty, but Blake gets assessed the technical and Shannon Brown makes the technical foul shot. I’m sure Blake is kicking himself for it.
And while EJ was very much responsible for the majority of the Clippers surge in the fourth, he did miss a free throw that would have put the Clippers up 6. And after Pau made a exhaustion 2, Gordon lost the ball to Kobe who went the other way to get the lead to 1. To make matters worse, he brought the ball back and made a terrible entry pass to Blake that Ron Artest stole. Again, Kobe makes the Clippers pay. These are small mistakes that can be rectified, but they need to be addressed. Gordon truly has evolved as a player, but turnovers and underwhelming free throw shooting are areas that he can still improve upon. Even in the last Clippers possession on offense, Gordon almost loses the ball before assisting the DeAndre slam.
Yes, the Fisher winner was devastating, but the Clippers have more to worry about than Fisher’s last second shot.