Down 1, with less than two minutes to play, Chris Kaman found himself at the top of the key with the ball on the slow break. He hesitated for a second, then drove to the rim, spun around Ed Davis and dumped the ball off to Blake Griffin who jammed the ball through the rim for the 89-88 lead.
The Raptors tried to answer, but they had struggled against the Clippers switch to zone (no surprise since the Raptors shoot the worst percentage from three in the league at 31.6 percent). The Raptors found Leandro Barbosa in the corner for the three, but Eric Gordon closed out on Barbosa and tipped the ball. In the maelstrom for the ball, Mo Williams knocked his noggin and Randy Foye came up with the ball. After the Clippers called a timeout to check on Mo, who turned out to be just shaken, Eric Gordon found himself in the spotlight again, burying the Clippers lone three ball of the contest for a four point lead and effectively sealing the game with a minute left to play.
In spite of all the excitement of the fourth quarter, this was by no means a pretty game. Through the first nine minutes of the game, the Raptors and the Clippers had combined for 21 points, and they finished the first quarter both shooting 8 for 23. For the Clippers, Chris Kaman seemed to be the only player with any rhythm and Amir Johnson scored 6 for the Raptors.
Even through the second and third quarters, neither team played especially well. The Raptors only played less bad, and they led after three, 73-66. Both teams missed plenty of layups and the defense wasn’t exactly spectacular even if there were quite a few blocked shots (DeAndre had 4, Kaman had 3, EJ and Aminu had 2 each). The offense for both teams was just that bad.
Like the game in February, the Clippers made Ed Davis look like the next Chris Bosh (Davis went for 21 on 8 for 11 shooting, with 11 rebounds and three assists), although Blake wasn’t the cover. Kaman was the guy letting Ed Davis torch the Clippers and, for a nice change of pace, Blake Griffin showed a few more stretches of good defense.
Blake began to aggressively hedge on screens in the fourth quarter, part of the Clippers switch to zone defense, and the results paid dividends. Blake almost picked off one pass, and then succeeded in nabbing another from Jose Calderon. The zone defense sparked the Clippers comeback, a great idea since the Raptors are the worst shooting team from three in the league (and even worse without Andrea Bargniani). It didn’t matter that the Clippers were 2-37 when trailing after the fourth quarter, or that they hadn’t beaten the Raptors since Jay Triano started coaching the Raptors, because when the Clips played hard and smart, they showed they are a much more talented team than the Raptors.
- Clippers only made one three tonight (1 for 9 total), but they should have made more considering how many of Randy Foye’s points were within a foot of the line. He really needs to get closer or shoot the three, because those long twos are a terrible percentage play and maddening to watch.
- Blake Griffin had a big night, scoring 22 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists, but he played differently down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Instead of relying on Eric Gordon, who wasn’t having a terrible night or a great one, Blake Griffin took over with 8 points, two monster dunks for leads, and 8 rebounds. Gotta love the tenacity.
- Al-Farouq looked aggressive at times and then others he just drifted. One play in the third he tried to pull up for a jumper, had it stripped and for a second the Raptors looked like they were going to have an easy layup on the break. But Aminu chased Leandro down and completely swatted the ball away from Leandro. An amazing block, but Aminu just needs to bring a stronger focus or consistent intensity to the game.
- Mo Williams had a much less aggressive night after he went for a season high 30 points against the Lakers. He only scored 9 points on 3 for 7 shooting, and dished out 6 assists. He deferred to Blake (23 shots), Kaman (14 shots), Gordon (14 shots) and Foye (12 shots) because they were all shooting better than he was. Still, he managed to score some big points, like the breakaway layup and the foul with 6 minutes left to play, and the last two foul shots of the game.
- Eric Gordon made 3 consecutive layups at the beginning of the second half, I like that when he’s not getting his shot to fall he goes to the rim. Seems like a huge change from last year’s play.
- James Johnson got a putback dunk off a free throw over Blake Griffin. As good of a rebounder as Blake is, he still has plenty of room to grow, because he’s not that zealous when it comes to boxing out.
- Mo looks like he’s getting more comfortable with the alley-oop as he and Blake connected for a smooth one in the second quarter.
- DeAndre was active on defense, with 4 blocks and he grabbed 5 rebounds in only 14 minutes of play. Looks like he’s feeling better after battling pneumonia for a week. Not sure that he’ll regain his gig in the starting lineup, what with Kaman playing like he has, but I hope that the consistent energy remains, well, consistent.
- With this win, the Clippers have 29 wins, the most they’ve had in a season since the 2006-2007 season. They still have 8 games to play, and since that 1-13 start they’ve played .500 basketball. Split those last 8 games, and 33 wins isn’t too bad. Not the 40 wins I predicted at the beginning of the year, but an improvement.