Despite a weak performance from Blake Griffin, the Clippers found themselves tied with the Magic 70-70 with 9:41 left in the fourth quarter. They weathered the storm through the third, surged back after an 11 point run from the Magic and the Clippers were poised to sneak away a win from the stumbling Magic. But then the Magic went on a 12-0 run, highlighted by an Earl Clark dunk and a Gilbert Arenas three, and the Clippers were just about done.
After three quarters of floundering around, the Magic finally found their rhythm in the fourth quarter. Their three point shooters warmed up as they made 5 of their 10 three pointers in the last quarter and their defense maintained its efficacy, holding the Clippers to 20 points. The Clippers really didn’t have much going on tonight, and would have been completely blown out had Baron Davis not played like it was 2007 again. It was Baron’s best game by far this year, but there wasn’t the support around him to get the job done. Usually, it’s Blake that needs the help.
Blake found himself double and triple teamed tonight without the help of Eric Gordon. We’re all accustomed to him rushing out to hot starts and then cooling, but he only had 5 points through the first half. That’s normally what Blake scores in the first two minutes. Literally. But the Magic dared the other Clippers to beat them. And while Baron played very well, Randy Foye had nothing going for him at all.
Foye never managed to get good looks, forcing bad shots that didn’t help his already cold shooting. He finished with 7 points on 13 shots. Yes, you read that correctly. He just hucked up brick after brick, failing to attack the rim enough (no free throws attempted). The lack of attacking the rim hurt, too, because Dwight Howard drew his fourth foul mid way through the third and the Magic didn’t take him out of the game. Had Randy attacked the rim to compensate for his awful shooting (what Eric Gordon does when he’s having an off night), the Clippers could have put Dwight out of the game for a longer stretch and altered the complexion of the game. He did drew a foul on Dwight once in the third quarter, but once wasn’t nearly enough.
Back to Baron. He played fantastic tonight. He shot 6 threes, which usually is a bad sign, but he shot them all with his feet set and made four of them. When he wasn’t shooting threes, he attacked the rim, and when the defense swarmed him, he kicked out for 8 assists. He even rebounded the ball, pulling down 8 rebounds. Had the other Clipper players been shooting better, Baron would have had a double double. He found Blake when he could, including a tricky pass in the first quarter when the Clippers were on the break. Baron was in traffic when he flipped it to Blake for the bucket and the foul. Then there was the long distance lob (captured up top) at the end of the third quarter that gave the Clippers the energy to come back from the Magic’s first big run, an 11-0 run from 6:31 to 3:01 in the third. Baron was all over the place this game and had the Clippers continued their tough defense down the stretch, and not given up 30 points in the last 9:41, he might have willed him to the win.
The only player that really showed up, other than Baron, was Ike Diogu. Ike only had 5 rebounds, but four of them were on the offensive end, where he created his own shot. He basically was the janitor for the rest of the team, cleaning up as much as he could, and finishing with a highly efficient 7 for 10 shooting. He even drew a charge on Dwight in the third quarter that gave the Clippers some lift. It’s amazing what he’s been doing since he signed with the Clippers, but it’s becoming clear that the NBA cast him off too early.
However, against teams like Orlando, the Clippers have such a high degree of difficulty that they can’t have two great games from supporting players and expect to win. Blake needs to have great games for them to win. Whether or not that’s fair is beside the point, other players have done it (look at LeBron and Cleveland) and it’s what’s necessary for the Clippers going forward.
• After seeming to have broken out in early January, DeAndre Jordan played poorly again. In the last four games, he’s averaged 4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 24.5 minutes per game. Part of his poor play is just the normal step back for the two steps forward, but there is two things that I want to address: 1) opposing teams are more aware of his movements around the basket because he’s such a good target for alley-oops, and 2) he seems to be hesitating when he gets the ball. DeAndre isn’t the most skilled big, so when he gets the ball close in the post, he can’t take a dribble and go to the hoop. He just needs to put it up. His confidence is not where it was when he was playing so well in January. If the Clippers want to play better, especially with Kaman out, they need DeAndre to be at least half as mentally strong as he is physically.
• Al-Farouq Aminu. His outside shot isn’t nearly what it was earlier in the year, but from what I see, he shows some signs of improving. He had three steals, a block and one of his “Farouq pass it! Pass it! Oh, oh! Great layup” fast breaks. I don’t want to gloss over his two turnovers and his 5 fouls, he’s still a long ways away. But I continue to think that he might fit in better with veterans around him. If he and Gomes switched places, and not necessarily minutes, I think there’s a chance that the Clippers could see more growth from Aminu while getting Gomes’ basketball I.Q. working with the second unit. Look at that Baron-Gordon-Aminu-Blake-Jordan line-up, it’s the best unit the Clips have given more than 20 minutes of run over the course of the season, with Aminu running with the “vets.”
• Bledsoe isn’t using his speed to get enough good shots. He only shot twice tonight despite having the speed to blow by every player on the Magic team. In his last five games, he’s averaged 19.4 minutes per game, and yet in all that time, he’s only shot the ball 17 times total. I like that he’s taking the role of distributor seriously, but he’ll be more effective if he gets his own shot and becomes a legitimate threat himself.
• Some stats on Dwight’s impact for the Magic (courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information):
The Clippers shot 75 percent on 9 for 12 shooting when Dwight was off the court, and 12 for 21 when Dwight was on the court.
Dwight out-dunked Blake tonight, 4-2, increasing his lead on the most dunks for the season, 135-118.