Eric Gordon’s mohawk was a rare brash signal from the Clippers leading scorer that he didn’t want to be forgotten. Trust me, Eric, no one forgot you. Over the course of the last month, EJ’s absence has been the obvious go-to excuse any time the Clippers didn’t have enough, whether it be three point shooting, defense or just a timely shot. Tonight, he provided all of that.
After running off the last nine points of the third quarter, the Clippers were up 75-69 over the Rockets but there is always the looming run that Clipper opponents make. With Gordon finally back in the lineup, the inevitable Rockets surge didn’t seem nearly as daunting.
Kaman provided the early fourth quarter scoring, looking the best he has since his injury, scoring 10 of the Clippers first 16 points in the quarter on his trademark jumpers and also a clean bank shot with his right hand over Scola and, not kidding, a swooping jam. After his run, the Clippers were up 91-85 with only six minutes left in the game. The Rockets had started their run though, Kevin Martin scored 5 of his twelve points (off three free throws and a dunk), before Courtney Lee scored four and Scola two. Game tied at 91.
In a game without Gordon, the Clippers probably would have force fed shots to Blake Griffin, which would have been troublesome with Hayes defending. Instead, Mo Williams ran the high pick and roll, dishing out to Eric Gordon who rose straight up from 27 feet and drained the shot. 94-91 Clippers.
After Luis Scola made a layup to get the game back within one, the Clippers returned to Gordon. Working with a high screen, Gordon turned the corner, split the defense, went straight to the rack only to be fouled in the act. He made both free throws. 96-93 Clippers.
Mo Williams’ three free throws were bookended by buckets from Scola and Lowry. 99-97 Clippers. The Clippers ran a play that was initially for Blake but he fell, passed it out to Gordon. EJ bowled to the rim, missing, but his second jump was so quick that he was able to beat out Chuck Hayes to tip the ball in to extend the lead to four points. 101-97. DeAndre rebounded a Kyle Lowry miss and quickly passed the ball to Gordon who weaved through the defense until he was fouled. Did EJ make both free throws? Yes, of course. 103-97.
The last 29 seconds elicited more nerves than jubilation as Lowry nailed a three, Mo Williams barely made one of two free throws and then Budinger made another clutch Rocket three to bring the game within one again. Thankfully, Mo Williams buried the last two free throws before the Rockets clanked a three pointer off the backboard to lose.
Even with Gordon’s remarkable nine points in the last 5 minutes, the Clippers barely won. Just showing how thin the team’s margin for error is, and how much of a difference Eric Gordon makes on a team like this. The true test, beyond Saturday’s game against the streaking Nuggets, will be how the Clippers fare on the road. The Pac-10 tournament will force the Clippers on another 6 game road trip and the Clippers mettle will be tested on the six game road trip, now that they have Gordon back.
- Kaman or DeAndre is a divisive issue in Clipperland, and tonight gave positive fodder for both camps. Not only did Kaman have his 10 points in the fourth quarter (when he was red hot) but he finished with 21 points on 10 for 17 shooting (second most shot attempts on the team) and 9 rebounds in only 23 minutes, some of those minutes at the four alongside DeAndre. Kaman was hot from everywhere, both the high post, and on the baseline, but the most impressive was his quickness and his dunk in the fourth quarter. Clippers would love to see more of that.
- DeAndre had his best game since the last Houston game, finishing with 8 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots. Strangely, DeAndre’s most impressive moments came on the offensive end. In the third quarter (8:26), DeAndre waved down Ryan Gomes and set a (rare) off ball screen for Eric Gordon. Gordon curled around, Gomes hit Gordon in rhythm and Gordon made the shot. But really it was a heads up play by DeAndre. The other play, to my great surprise, involved DJ on the low block in the fourth quarter. He backed down Scola, faked to go into the lane, spun the other way and sank the right handed (his off hand) shot for two points.
- Blake, despite his foul troubles, had his best night against Chuck Hayes. He scored 20 points (none in the fourth) on 7 for 12 shooting, yanked down 14 boards and had 5 assists. He seems to be finding a bit of a groove with Mo Williams although there was one troubling play in the fourth quarter. With the Clippers needing a bucket, Blake iso-ed up Chuck Hayes on the extended block. No other Clippers moved around allowing Hayes to completely smother Blake. Against elite defenders, the Clippers need to keep their movement, or at least until Blake develops an indefensible post-game. Another note, Blake went 6 for 6 from the free throw line tonight and has elevated his season average to 62.6 percent from the line. Not amazing, but with the raise, there have been fewer hard fouls on Blake.
- Mo Williams didn’t shoot the ball very well tonight (5 for 14) and a lot of his shots were questionable to say the least, but he did dole out 11 assists and he iced the game with his free throw shooting. When he has time, Mo is a very good shooter, hopefully he can figure out how to use Blake, Kaman and DeAndre as PnR partners in order to allow himself to get better shots.
- One more bit on Eric Gordon. In the third quarter, Gordon leaked away from Kevin Martin in the corner to try and help steal the ball from the opposite low block. Only the Rockets figured that Martin was open and swung it out then around the perimeter to a seemingly open Martin. However, Gordon picked up on the pass quicker than the Rockets, covered half of the court and swatted away Kevin Martin’s three point attempt. Gordon was a huge part of Kevin Martin’s 12 point on 4 for 15 shooting performance.