The Clippers only played well enough to lose to the Orlando Magic by a respectable 9 points. The struggling Magic regained their mojo, ran out to a 35-14 lead after the first quarter and the Clippers never came all the way back. They did outplay the Magic in the last three quarters but they never got within six points (albeit off of a spectacular alley-oop from Baron to Blake with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter).
It’s not even like the Clippers played their standard bad game. They held the Magic to 26 percent shooting from 3, the Clips only turned the ball over 8 times the whole game, they won the third quarter (19 to 10, yes, they held the Magic to 10 in the third quarter), they shot free throws if not well, then respectably mediocre (17 for 25) and they even held the Magic under 100 points. There wasn’t even a dominant performance by any player on the Magic team. Vince started hot, Jameer Nelson did play above his season averages, finishing with 17 points and 9 assists, but there was no outlier game. Surprising, especially when VDN had Brian Cook checking Howard for the majority of the second half. Even more strange, when VDN put Cook on Dwight, which I assumed would lead to a spontaneous combustion of scoring by the Magic, the exact opposite happened. The Clippers then went on the run that finally got the lead down to 6. I couldn’t fully grasp the way the Clippers played. It was so uncharacteristically bad.
The story of the night will be Baron Davis and Ryan Gomes replacing Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu in the starting line-up. True, Baron Davis had the best +/- of the first half, finishing with 4 points on 2 for 2 shooting with 2 assists and 0 turnovers. But the changed-up starting unit played so terribly on the defensive end to start out the game, giving up 35 points to a Magic team that hasn’t won in 4 games is disastrous. When the vets come in, the goal is to play more professionally, more soundly and yet it resulted in anything but professional play. Even offensively, they could only muster up a measly 14 points.
Sure, Gordon started 0 for 6 from the field, finished the first half 2 for 12 and mostly missed good shots that could have added to the assist totals of Baron, but it was more than that, it was energy. The vets in the line-up couldn’t overcome the Clipper woes and even exacerbated them, which begs the question: what is the identity of the team? In the recent games the Clippers youth movement may have bumbled down the stretch, but there was an intensity and ebullience to their play. Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq are by no means reliable, but their unpredictable freneticism on the floor may function as the effective surrounding chaos around the Clippers building blocks, Gordon and Griffin. It was painfully obvious that the hodgepodge of vets wasn’t anywhere close to effective against the Magic.
The best play came from Blake and Eric Gordon, no surprise. Blake continues to play better and better, finishing tonight with 27 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists. His defense looks to be improving as he had a blocked shot tonight but I could have sworn he had one more and contested more than a few. His effort on the weakside will continue to improve as he develops his overall awareness. And Gordon overcame a terrible shooting first half to finish with 28 points and a team high 8 assists. But outside of those two, there wasn’t another player that finished with more than 8 points. Baron starting doesn’t help Eric Bledsoe any. Eric has played poorly recently, but his play tonight was almost invisible. That’s not the Bled that Clippers fans are used to watching. Even in the bad games he usually finds a way to score few points, dish out a couple of assists or get a steal or two to keep the team going, even if it’s at the expense of rookie turnovers.
It’s not like Baron played better in his new starting role. He had the fewest assists that he’s had since he’s come back from his knee injury (3) and he continues to shoot the ball despicably. He’s obviously not the answer for the Clippers right now unless he dramatically improves his shooting or gets his assists back around the 8-10 a game area. Until that happens, why rush Baron? Why not keep Bledsoe in the line-up until Baron shows more than a game glimpse of his ability? That sounds very rookie-ish, but Baron is the type of player that constantly needs to prove his value and it’s been slipping lately. Why not even see some of Willie Warren?
While most Clipper losses are laden with new silver linings, this game felt more depressing than the slew of losses this season. Even while learning from their mistakes, the Clips still couldn’t muster a win. Perhaps this will change over the course of the season, but the veterans don’t appear to be the answer at any time, now or in the future. It’s a strange circumstance, but VDN needs to ride the younger players to victory, even if that means suffering from more mistakes.