I started my New Years Eve stupidity a little early this year. This post is actually from Clipperblog’s newest contributor Michael Shagrin, although I wish I was the one who wrote it. Everyone be safe tonight, and enjoy this post from Michael.
The history and transition of the Clippers was on full display last night at this lockout shortened season’s home opener. It’s hard to be disappointed when you see how the Clips performed against a Bulls team that had the best regular season record in the NBA last year while also making a solid offensive upgrade at shooting guard with the acquisition of Richard Hamilton. Derrick Rose also played out of his mind, like the reigning MVP should play when he goes up against arguably his only competition for complete dominance at his position. As the prospects of a win were regressing throughout the 4th quarter, Staples Center wasn’t pouring out in the traditional prioritization of beating LA traffic over watching the end of an inevitable Clipper loss. No, this game maintained an energy until just about the last minute of the game because even though the Bulls extended their lead to an unrecoverable level, it was just plain exciting to watch this team play.
But before the game started, the Clipper faithful were treated by the Dear Leader and owner of our organization, Donald T. Sterling, to what was supposed to be an energy inducing introductory ceremony for opening night, in what’s shaping up to be the franchise’s transformational season. The Bulls were introduced to a round of boo’s (for which DRose didn’t receive any and understandably. It’s hard to boo a guy like that, but the Clipper fans managed to at the end of the game when the Chicago fans started MVP chants for him. No reason to rub salt in the wound, Bulls fans.) The Imperial March-themed Bulls intros were followed by an awkward silence before the opening promo came on. At this point, I was starting to involuntarily cover my face like I’m forced to do for some episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but it got much worse. Mr. Sterling must’ve given the AV guys a pay cut because when the promo started, it ran without sound for 30-40 seconds before the Stadium caught onto the ineptitude. The Clipper girls ran onto the Court to do some improvisational dancing in the dark, which didn’t help much, but the effort was appreciated.
After the opening highlight reel ran successfully, sound and all, the entire roster was introduced to the home opener crowd. Out first, dressed in a nicely fitting gray suit was Chauncey Billups. I didn’t know he would be out with an injured groin, so seeing him walk out in a suit was leading me to conjure nightmare scenarios of a season riddled with injured knees. After going through the reserves and bench, the PA got to the starting lineup. After introducing Caron and DJ, he arrived to Mo Williams. (When I saw his picture on the big screen, I turned to my buddy and said it was great that Mo got to start the home opener because he really deserved to be out there after the work he put into himself and the team during the offseason. In fact, Kevin Arnovitz penned an open letter to Mo that does a great job of getting to the meat of his involvement in Vinny’s Backcourt Dilemma). So the PA gets to Mo Williams and, I kid you not, introduces him as Chauncey Billups. The immediate reaction of the stadium probably should’ve prompted a quick correction from the PA, but only after Mo finished dapping up his teammates near center court did we get to hear an almost inaudible: “correction: Maurice Williams.” It was an inauspicious start to what we are all hoping won’t be a tempestuous power-sharing agreement at the guard positions.
Yesterday’s game did a lot to inspire confidence not just in what the Clippers could be capable of in the future, but of what they’re capable of in the present. The first quarter was the game of basketball at its finest—the most electrifying offense the Association has seen in years going up against one of the best defensive squads in recent memory (obviously also led by the offensive dominion of Derrick Rose). The Clippers started out on a 7-0 run with Blake introducing the season ticket holders to the 2011-12 season with a highlight reel dunk which had the entire Staples Center on its feet (besides Joakim Noah who was on the floor with his ankles broken), followed on the next possession by a beautiful Griffin post move that earned him an easy lay up. The run concluded with Mo converting an open 3 after some excellent ball movement. Not to sound ominous, but it was mostly downhill from there.
The play of the Clippers could really be broken down into three clichéd categories: the good (self-explanatory), the bad (those mistakes that are fixable with heady coaching and practice), and the ugly (the underlying limitations that can only be overcome with roster improvements or Trey Thompkins magically turning into A’mare).
The chemistry between BG and CP3 is already starting to progress and with every step forward they take as a tandem, the entire team benefits. Two examples. To start out the third quarter, DJ and BG screened on either side of Rose while CP3 was handling the ball above the right elbow. BG and DJ both showed roll, but BG bailed taking the attention of interior D with him leaving DeAndre an open lane to slam his easiest oop of the night. The next example is one of potential because it was not executed. At all. The last three plays of the 3rd quarter were all identical and they went something like this: Blake screens for CP3 above the right elbow and rolls down the left side of the lane having the effect of pulling in the perimeter defense. CP3 rockets the ball to a wide open Randy Foye standing behind the arc halfway between the baseline and the top of the key. All three times Foye had wide open threes. All three times he missed. Those will start dropping, particularly with Chauncey and Mo shooting, but the moral is that over-attention to CP3-BG plays will lead to lots of open opportunities for role players. The other individual bright spot on the offense was Mo Williams. It seems he’s abandoned his quest to become master of the PUJIT in favor of a team-oriented fastbreak strategy. After a Chicago turnover, Mo led a 3-on-2 break with Blake to his right. When he got to the free throw line, he faked a pass to Blake and took it to the hole himself for what should’ve been an easy layup. He got fouled hard by Noah, but there was no call. That was another infuriating trend, the seeming inability of the refs to blow the whistle for the Clippers while acting like Daniel Ellsberg on behalf of the Bulls. Here’s a picture of the obvious foul.
I don’t have much basis for this, but I liked what I saw out of Trey Thompkins. Maybe it’s just that I’m using Al-Farouq and Ryan Gomes as the standard for comparison, but he just might have the ability to become a B-List A’mare in the future.
Perimeter defense and rebounding. I hope these are just adjustment issues because new players on a team with almost no training camp and preseason shouldn’t be all that good yet with the rotations necessary for a quality team defense. If Brian Cook was in, Thibiedou would run almost without fail run a high screen set by a big man for Rose because the Clips defensive scheme called for a switch. Cook was burnt toast every time. I would describe it like watching Usain Bolt run a sprint against Barack Obama. Entertaining sure, but not the most balanced of matchups. I’d like to blame the lack of rebounding on Cook, but the real culprits seemed to be DJ and BG overzealously trying to go to Lob City before the team had even gained possession. There won’t be fastbreak lobs if there are no defensive rebounds. The last fixable problem was Mo’s defense on Richard Hamilton. He can’t guard 2’s, so if we want to take advantage of his superior offensive threat, VDN should study how Carlisle made up for Jason Terry’s porous defense last year.
While Blake was the essence of what was good about that game, his attitude was really pouty. He was charged a technical in the early 2nd quarter after complaining about a no-call, and even though he continued his animated criticisms of the officiating throughout the game he (in my opinion) luckily managed to avoid another technical. But in his frankly unprofessional treatment of the refs, he did end up suffering. The number of no-calls against Blake specifically was more than I had ever seen. By my calculations, he should have had 8-11 more attempts at the line. If I were a referee in that game, I wouldn’t have been inclined to give BG calls either. The other problem Blake had was a tendency to take outside shots. This wasn’t all his fault (for some reason he was getting the ball at the top of the key with 14 seconds left on the shot clock with absolutely no offensive motion occurring amongst the other four players), but 9 of his 12 misses were from midrange. He dominates the paint and that’s where he should be utilized. One day, Blake could have the range of Karl Malone to complete the pick and roll package, but it took Karl Malone more than two years to become Karl Malone (and it definitely took him more than 5 games with John Stockton to figure out how to run the legendary set).
The Clippers need a big. That’s really what it comes down to. A lot of problems get solved if the Clips get a legitimate backup center who can come in and clog up the lane as opposed to Cook, Gomes, and Thompkins who were doing their best impressions of the Invisible Man. Gomes took it to another level when he made an ordinary to pass from the corner to the ghost of Clipper’s passed. DJ’s foul trouble may also be a product of the lack of frontcourt depth, but he did manage five fouls in 26 minutes. He also picked up his 5th after an ill-timed substitution with 10 minutes left in the 4th. Within one possession of the substitution, DJ had got charged with a loose ball foul while going for an offensive rebound. He really should never have been in the game at that point. VDN might be in the ugly category by the end of this season.