Under a minute remaining in double overtime with the Clippers up 122-125, Blake Griffin found himself at the high post with the ball. The Wizards double teamed him and Blake dished the ball out to Randy Foye, who settled in and calmly sank the three pointer with 42 seconds left. Clippers up 6, game over. And the assist that Blake had? Oh, that marked his first NBA triple double.
Blake finished the night with 33 points on 14 for 19 shooting, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists (with a block and a timely steal, too). That is an astonishing triple double, and tied Blake for the most double doubles in a season in franchise history with Elton Brand at 55. A better augur for the future, better than Blake’s dunks (how about that right foot, right handed dunk and the foul over JaVale McGee with 2:33 remaining in OT?), was Blake’s strides on defense, especially as the game came down to the wire in regulation. On three of five trips Blake played heads up, sound defense. The first play came when the Clippers left Blake out on the perimeter to cover John Wall. Wall had torched the Clippers all night and Blake moved his feet, stayed in front of the ultra quick guard and forced him into a tough shot that he missed. But the play that really helped the Clippers was when Blake poked away the ball from Wall, that led to a fast break with Gordon that should have put the game away at 101-97. And then he drew the charge on Crawford, protecting the Clippers tenuous lead. If anything the stops showed that Blake at least has the potential to play good defense.
Speaking of Gordon, how great was that shot at the end of the first overtime? EJ looked for the ball off the high screen on the far side of the court, but Mo couldn’t get it to him (bad angle and risky pass), so Gordon ran back to the strong side, got the ball, stepped back, pump faked JaVale McGee into the third row of seats and then drilled a three with a hand in his face to tie the game. Gordon, like the rest of the Clippers, struggled taking care of the ball tonight (5 turnovers for EJ, 25 for the Clippers), but he didn’t let his shortcomings handling the ball hurt him in the rest of his game. That’s what’s so admirable about Gordon, he keeps his head up and his emotions in check even when the games turn hectic or he mucks up. Gordon committed what would have been confidence rattling turnovers (like the herky-jerky turnover with the Clippers down 1 in OT and only two minutes left that turned into a Clipper 3 point deficit), and yet he shrugged it all off, made that game tying three and scored 32 points on 11 for 21 shooting. Just impressive.
Two thirty point scorers and some defensive stops, well the Clippers needed more to get the win tonight as their defense on the opposition was for the most part, less than stellar. Jordan Crawford, as I suspected, played inefficiently well, both shooting the Wizards into the game and out of the game. He started 0 for 7 from the field before he made 7 of his next 8 and brought the Wizards back from the depths in the third quarter. Gordon did make Crawford work for his shots, as Crawford scored his 25 points on 10 for 28 shooting. You have to like those percentages for an opponent, but there was still the feel that Crawford was a huge part of the Wizards effort. He made some miracle, momentum plays, like the two reverse layups in the fourth quarter that shocked the fans.
However, the best Wizard on the floor tonight was, unsurprisingly, John Wall (honorable mention goes to JaVale McGee). He had his normal penetration and passing, but he also shot the ball well (12 for 26), despite a missed free throw that allowed Gordon to tie the game. But on the whole, Wall just eviscerated Mo Williams. No one’s pretending Mo is a good defender here, but there are very few good point guard defenders in the league (Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Toney Douglas and that’s about it) and even with an elite defensive point teams need good defensive schemes to defend quick point guards. Whenever Wall beat Mo off a screen or just flat out in the open floor, so rarely did a Clipper slide over and try to stop Wall. He is, simply, a great point guard and that’s why he needs to be planned for, otherwise he has pretty good shooting nights like tonight.
Despite Mo’s deficiencies on the defensive end, he played very well on offense. For the majority of the game, he contented himself to manage the game, getting Blake, Eric and Kaman (more on Kaman later) the shots that they needed. Through three quarters, Mo only scored two points on 5 shots, but once the team was in the flow of the game, that’s when Mo knew when to make his momentum swinging shots. He scored 12 points in the final quarter, with some huge threes but he never fell out of the flow of the game, also getting 4 assists (he finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds). And then in overtime, he hit that inbounds, give and go three that got the Clippers back within 2 when the Clippers were down five with little time remaining and were all but dead. Now, the Clippers are 7-5 with Mo running point. Some of the games have been against teams like the Wizards, but others included the Celtics on the road and Denver at home. Besides, winning is winning and that’s a great development for the Clippers.
An even better development has been the improvement and integration of Chris Kaman. Starting in place of the pneumonia plagued DeAndre, Kaman stepped up big, scoring 28 points on 10 for 18 shooting, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked 4 shots. His game wasn’t perfect, he still turned the ball over and through the first quarter he had almost as many shots as Gordon and Griffin combined, but Kaman played with energy. There are limitations and habits to his game that will never change. He still hesitates, turns the ball over and the Clippers missed DeAndre’s length when Kaman tried contesting John Wall’s drives and floaters, but the competition at center has revitalized Kaman. He looks more active on defense than any time all this year, maybe since he’s been with the Clippers. The reality is that the Clippers need both of the centers to be successful. Who starts isn’t of so much importance as much as playing the match-ups well and communicating with the players. The Clippers, regardless what they do at starting center, look like they have a bright future, regardless who starts at center.
The continued improvement of this Clippers team won’t do anything for this year. No amount of Blake Griffin triple doubles or big Eric Gordon shots or strong Kaman games will get the Clips to the playoffs, but the team continues to grow. Say what you want about VDN’s playcalling, but the Clippers play hard and improve. The mantra always seems to be “wait ’til next year!” but that no longer sounds ironic.
- JaVale McGee played great against the Clippers, 22 points on 11 for 14 shooting and 13 rebounds but he made his mark blocking shots. He finished with 4, but this might be the hardest block I’ve ever seen on Blake:
- Mo is starting to get the hang of throwing Blake alley-oops. Case in point:
- Two weird officiating moments tonight: 1) for the Clippers, it appeared that the Clipper ran out of timeouts in regulation, Ralph and Mike were nervous, but then, out of nowhere the Clippers did have a timeout. Nice to see Vinny being more aware than the announcers. And then 2) the Wizards had a back court violation called back with the game going down to the wire because the refs said that Wall never established possession in the front court. I believe both events were called correctly, but it didn’t mean that there wasn’t a whole lot of confusion on the court. Glad the refs got them both right though, nice going Derek Stafford and crew.
- How about Jamario Moon’s offensive rebound in the second overtime that led to the Blake assist of the Randy Foye three? Pretty great, huh? I still wonder why the Clippers don’t play him a little more. Sure he’s not part of the future, but neither is Gomes. As long as he doesn’t eat into Aminu’s minutes too much (which happened tonight, Aminu only played a minute), I think that Moon should get some run.
- Chris Kaman had 28 tonight, and he still doesn’t hit for 30. Astounding that not once in his career has he gone for 30.
- Randy Foye making shots. 8 points in 30 minutes but the shot to seal the game was confidently made. Not sure how he’ll evolve with the team, because I don’t like Bledsoe getting 12 minutes in a double overtime game, but Foye helps.