Blake Griffin suffered a frustrating night that will be remembered for much more than his career low 2 rebounds and his inefficient shooting (6 for 18, 2 for 8 in the first quarter). It will be remembered by a single, glorious failure. Down 97-84 with a little more than 4 minutes to play, Blake set a high screen for Mo Williams on Steve Nash. A standard play that hadn’t previously had the desired effect on the afternoon, one of the reasons that the Clippers found themselves down 97-84. But on this play, Blake found daylight, and a perfectly led pass from Mo, then lept over Marcin Gortat, who slid under him at the last second, and Blake jammed the ball home. But he was whistled for charging, his sixth foul. Shocked and incensed, Blake ran down the other end with the ball, pleading his case and was again whistled. Technical foul.
No one in the arena could believe what happened, either that Blake actually dunked over Marcin Gortat from outside of the restricted area, or that Blake Griffin was called for the charge. When it happened, Alvin Gentry responded by turning around in amazement (after the game he said “I don’t care if it was a charge. That might be as impressive a dunk as I’ve seen in the NBA in 23 yrs.”), but the most emphatic response came in the form of loud and incessant boos from the fans. On the replay, it appeared that Gortat’s foot was partially inside the restricted zone, and the fans didn’t want the referees or the Suns’ players to forget the injustice that had just happened. The fans booed longer than in any game I have ever heard, longer than any time that Blake was taken down by a foul, longer than any last second loss. The boos were loud and vitriolic, full of an unique intensity.
The energy in the arena was so strong that it sparked a quick Clippers run. The Clips cut through the Sun’s 14 point lead, bringing it all the way down to 7 with a minute left and the electricity of the crowd. Mo Williams appeared the most energized by the crowd as he went right to the hoop to draw a foul (made both free throws), found Kaman rolling to the rim for the bucket and the foul, had another set of free throws (made one) and two layups (one of which was a slicing, spinning layup where he took on four Suns and left Steve Nash scratching his head on the ground). All in all, Mo Williams finished those last four minutes with 7 poins and two assists.
However, none of Mo’s efforts were enough to surmount the lead that the Suns had created in the first 44 minutes. And it’s not like he can’t look in the mirror some, Steve Nash torched Mo over the course of the game. Nash did most of the damage in the first half, scoring 15 points on 6 for 9 shooting, grabbing 7 rebounds and distributing 7 assists, mostly while operating the pick and roll to perfection. Mo tried, but switching on Nash PnRs, the strategy of the day, didn’t serve to tak away Nash’s shot nor did it take away the pass. Nash finished with 23 points on 8 for 13 shooting, 7 rebounds and 13 assists.
Eric Gordon’s performance didn’t help either. Gordon finished with only 10 points on 4 for 11 shooting and 2 for 6 beyond the parabola. Gordon made some big shots, like the 3 with 6:28 left in the third quarter that brought the Clippers within 3, but he didn’t have the same quietly charismatic game to infuse the Clippers with the momentum necessary to come all the way back.
The best efforts on the Clippers came in the form of Randy Foye’s first half (13 points on 5 for 6 shooting) and Chris Kaman’s 21 points on 9 for 16 shooting with 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. He also had a monster left handed jam. However, even Kaman’s game had its blemishes, even if the stat line doesn’t show it, but more in the form of how the game was played. Kaman started for the first time since November, and the start proved worrisome as it knocked Blake Griffin out of rhythm. Blake got a couple low post touches in the beginning of the game, but when those touches went unsuccessful, Kaman earned, rightly so, 3 shots on the low block. The problem is that going to Kaman after Blake’s touches don’t result in points is a good and natural reaction for that instance, but hard on the greater flow of the game. Blake needs his rhythm and losing early touches to Kaman can easily be avoided by starting DeAndre and still playing Kaman starter-ish minutes. If Kaman entered the game with 4 minutes left in the first, Blake would be already established and Kaman could be force fed shots with Bledsoe and Aminu running with him.
This isn’t an indictment on VDN’s decisions, because DeAndre wasn’t available. It just seems like a cautionary example that harkens back to the lack of offensive chemistry at the beginning of the season.
- The Clippers won the third quarter, 29-27, and they showed resiliency, a rare commodity when the Clippers are down. Kaman, Gordon and Blake combined for a 7-0 run that put the Clippers back within one. More impressive, the Suns re-extended their lead and the Clips fought back again. Like to see that become a more reliable pattern. Unfortunately, then the 4th quarter happened.
- Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe split minutes in the first half (13 minutes to 11) and that might have become a trend had Bledsoe not played so poorly in the fourth quarter. He turned the ball over repeatedly and couldn’t find a use for his athleticism. The Suns left Bledsoe open behind the arc and Bledsoe obliged by missing 3 of 4 shots. For good reason, he didn’t play much in the fourth.
- How bad were the Clippers’ fast breaks today? Just awkward. Right out of the half, Gordon, Griffin and Gomes found themselves on a 3 on 1 break. Gordon tried to hand off to Blake for a dunk, but Blake was covered, and the ball bounced around until Blake ended up getting the ball back and laying it in. Then there was the Randy Foye steal where he wanted to lob it to Blake but they hot-potatoed the ball around and squandered the break when Ike was blocked by Lopez. And there was the Bledsoe-led fast break that resulted in a dunk called back because Bledsoe charged. Something to work on and no single culprit, the whole team needs to improve.