With .8 seconds left in the game, Derrick Rose abided by Lawler’s Law, missed a free throw, failed to tie the score at 100 and the Clippers did something most thought was impossible: they won back to back games on back to back nights on the road.
Not that they didn’t try to give that game away. They were up by as much as 7 with less than a minute left to play in the game. But then Derrick Rose was open at the top of the key, completely leaving Baron Davis in the dust and went straight to the rim for the lay-up and the foul. Not a problem, right? The Clippers were up 4 with the ball, except for Eric Gordon’s turnover problems kicked up again and he gave the ball up on a simple inbounds play. At this point the whole arena in Chicago felt the anticipation of a miraculous comeback win, because, isn’t this what superstars like Derrick Rose do? Even on the off nights for the team don’t they find the will to overtake bad teams on their own (Rose finished with 34 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists)? Rose flourishes on the next play, dishing off to an open Boozer and DeAndre, probably fearing giving up the bucket and the foul like the last play, let Boozer go straight to the rim for an easy two. The raucous crowd knew that the Clippers would give this up. After all they are the Clippers. While Baron did play a fantastic game, he did try to oblige by missing a lay-up with only a few seconds left, the Bulls getting the rebound with the opportunity for the win. The game down to the last 6 seconds, the Bulls gave the ball to Rose to do what he does best: get to the cup. Blake played great position defense after Rose blew past the perimeter defenders, forcing Rose into an almost impossible shot, except that Rasual helped out by fouling Rose right before the buzzer. Rose tranquilly sank the first one before short-arming the second shot, leaving DeAndre to get the rebound for the Clippers’ win, shocking everybody watching the game.
Without Joakim Noah to bother him, Blake had another outstanding game, scoring 29 points on 10 for 18 shooting, while grabbing 12 rebounds and passing out 4 assists, with the ancillary stat of recording his 15th straight double double. He scored his points from all over the place, off spin moves, fade-aways, hook shots, dunks, dunks and more dunks. He was all over the place, particularly effective in getting Boozer in foul trouble and keeping him off the glass. Blake just keeps getting better, and as Mike Smith will remind you, in this stretch of games, which is the majority of his year, he’s put up better simple offensive numbers than Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in their primes. I have no idea how good Blake will be, but it’s clear that he’s already great. Here’s to his health.
What was strange was VDN deciding something that wasn’t broke, did need fixing. Unlike in the Detroit win where he reinserted Bledsoe into the starting line-up, VDN started Baron. I wrote in the pregame thread that I thought Baron would work better in the second unit, getting the spot-up shooters open looks while Bledsoe would work well in a secondary scorer role with the first unit. One of the problems that I had with starting Baron was that it takes the ball out of Eric Gordon’s hands, removing one of the Clippers biggest advantages to win. But then Baron goes out and plays his best basketball of the season, posting 16 points on 7 for 13 shooting and tallying 7 assists, as well as leading the team in +/- with a +8.
The Clippers rushed out to a 19-11 lead under Baron’s hand, but then gave away their lead with Bledsoe at the helm. The Bulls even were up as much as 5, after they went on a 20-7 run to have a 31-26 lead. But Baron came back in, albeit playing alongside Bledsoe, and led the Clippers back into the lead.
What was impressive, was that Baron even shot the ball pretty well and didn’t even take too many bad shots (I saw two ugly threes, but that wasn’t until later, once in the third and another but it was to beat the shot clock). It’s almost like he’s gotten so excited about throwing alley oop passes to Blake that the positivity infected the rest of his game.
Maybe the most impressive thing was that with the game winding down, Baron was at the top of the key with the shot clock winding down and started to dribble like he was going to chuck up his patented “I don’t care, I’m shooting this because I’m great” 3 pointer, yet, he thought, and went straight to the rack for a lefty lay up. I know that there will be mental gaffes when dealing with Baron, but it was encouraging to see him make that move.
The worry, if you saw the game, is whether Baron will be able integrate Eric Gordon into the mix. You could chalk it up to Gordon simply not playing well (he only finished with 15 points on 5 for 13 shooting, 2 assists and, gulp, 7 turnovers), but there was a clear focus on Baron and Blake in the offensive scheme. I did think it created better ball movement and quality shots that I’d seen from the Clippers all year (they shot 61 percent in the first half), but there needs to be an even ground where Baron and EJ can coexist.
Still, the Clippers looked more than energetic, which they more or less are every night, they looked confident, excepting the 35 second lapse at the end of the game. And they are bringing home a two game road winning streak back to Staples Center where they’ll face the Timberwolves on Monday. Dare they dream to make it a three game winning streak?