Right. And win they did, although they didn’t always look so good doing it. The inestimable Charlie Widdoes has broken down the Xs and Os of how the Clips offense worked without Chris Paul at the helm. Here are a few more general umbrella keys to the victory.
Blitzkrieg – The perfect antidote to the afternoon-game blahs? Dunks and defense. If you just watched Blake Griffin during the first quarter you would have thought the Heat had returned to town. Late in the quarter, Blake went over the front row seats and managed to turn an errant carom into a fast break – a play that sparked a 14-0 run. Griffin was everywhere today – he must have hit the floor at least ten times. It was as if he was anticipating a let-down after the Laker game and was on a one-man mission to negate it.
Many of the Clippers have backed away from the Lob City moniker over the past few weeks, probably because it evokes flash over substance. But today was a great example of how winning and “Lob City” aren’t mutually exclusive. The aerial show put on by Blake and DeAndre – four dunks in the first quarter alone – brought a sluggish matinee crowd alive.
Caron Butler – After the Clips signed Butler, some skeptics worried he would have trouble adapting to a complementary role. Instead, Butler has become Chris Paul’s safety valve, seemingly always open for a weak side spot-up when the shot-clock is running down. Today was the reminder that Caron has been a primary scorer for most of his career. He took MarShon Brooks off the dribble, beat him around screens, while continuing his generally hot weak-side shooting. He paced the Clippers with 17 in the first half, keeping the team respectable from the outside until Foye and Billups could find their strokes in the second half.
Backcourt Depth – Is the glass half-full or half empty? Yes, the bench looked pretty thin today with Chris Paul and Mo Williams out, but what team doesn’t look thin when two of its best six players are out? What every team can’t do is fill those holes with a future Hall of Fame candidate and a lottery pick.
No, Chauncey Billups doesn’t roam through the paint with his own three-foot buffer zone the way Chris Paul does. But he didn’t seem to have any trouble running the pick and roll with Blake or sinking spot-up jumpers.
Foye’s 6-17 from the field wasn’t great, but he made several clutch shots with the game in balance, and his aggressive forays into the paint led to a team-high ten assists. Foye was quick to remind reporters after the game that he started more than thirty games last season in place of an injured Eric Gordon. Ideally, Foye continues to come off the bench and play 12-16 mintues. But how many teams have a fourth best guard so comfortable in a starting role?
But, as they say in NBA circles, you can’t stop Sheldon Williams, you can only hope to contain him. The Nets offense finally started clicking at the start of the fourth quarter. Particularly troublesome – at least to the lustily booing crowd – was Public Enemy Number One Kris Humphries, whose eight quick points helped draw the Nets even with five minutes to play. (By the way, I was completely unprepared for the vituperative and unrelenting Humphries hatred; he was booed every time he touched the ball – Is it envy? Are people that protective of Kim Kardashian? Maybe because reality-show weddings threaten to undermine the sanctity of marriage vows? Does he find it all funny? Aggravating? Soul-crushing? Inquiring minds.)
There’s nothing positive about letting an inferior team hang around long enough to get back into a game that looked over in the first quarter. However, as Caron Butler noted after the game, it gave the team a chance to execute the offense down the stretch of a close game. Clipper teams of the past might well have wilted completely once the Nets tied the game, but this one just pressed on the gas again.
Randy Foye hit two open shots, and made a great pass to a cutting Chauncey Billups for a third.Coming out of a timeout with just under two minutes to play, Del Negro drew up a pretty double pick and roll misdirection. Ran to perfection, the result was a wide-open three for Chauncey Billups. Swish. Ballgame. It was a nicely designed play by a coach who doesn’t get a lot of credit in that department.
All in all, a satisfying game to win. It didn’t “mean” anything. There was no “playoff-like” atmosphere. It was just a game that had to be won, just like so many others still to come this season, like the March back-to-back in Houston and Minnesota or the one in Phoenix the day after a red-eye from Sacramento. Those probably won’t be pretty either.
A few odds and ends.
- The Nets were in the Bonus in the second and fourth quarter. According to my (inaccuracy riddled) notebook, the Clips have put their opponents in the penalty in every game but one this season. To the extent that an opponent’s foul trouble is generally proportional to aggressive offense, this has to be considered a good thing. Of course, it would be a better thing if the Clippers could make a few free throws. This afternoon the Clippers were 19-35 from the charity stripe, an atrocious 54%. When DeAndre Jordan is your fourth worst free throw shooter you know you have issues.
- Coach Del Negro was asked before the game if Blake and DeAndre had standing instructions to keep the ball from going through the net after the whistle blows. “No,” said Vinny. “They just like to jump.” He got a laugh before adding that he does believe shooters get confidence whenever they see the ball go through the net.
- Providence Reunion. The game featured both of the league’s Providence alums, Ryan Gomes and MarShon Brooks. Brooks got the best of it, scoring 19 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. He’s not quite the gunner I had heard he was. Several times he passed-up a contested shot in favor of a drive or a pass – the Nets have a good piece there.
- Reggie Evans, Cult Hero. Evans had four offensive rebounds in his first five offensive possessions. That’s impressive, but not as impressive as the crowd reaction, with a sold-out Staples Center chanting “REGGIE! REGGIE!” Even Blake and DeAndre’s dunks didn’t get a louder ovation. Throw in the best beard this side of Kimbo Slice, and Evans is well on his way to becoming an almost a mystical figure on this year’s Clippers.
- Blake Griffin’s Enemy List. How close are we to seriously discussing if Blake is one of the league’s least liked players? Today it was DeShawn Stevenson who was assessed a flagrant foul after knocking to the floor. Later, Blake dunked on Kris Humphries and stood over him jawing before jogging down-court. This list will almost certainly continue to grow. Humiliation is a by-product of Blake’s style of dominance, right? Generally speaking, guys don’t love to get dunked on, stared down, or yapped at by a second-year player, no matter now good he is.