Al Thornton begins the night 1-6 from the field and, just before halftime, picks up his first career T. Almost as a response to Monday night’s 10-turnover debacle, the FGAs come mostly on step-back jumpers.
But over the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter and both overtime periods [17 minutes], Al goes off for 22 points:
- [4th, 6:48] In transition, Thornton gets way out in front of the play. As Dan Dickau pushes the ball, Thornton sets up just off the box, where Dickau immediately shoots him the ball. Spencer Hawes is slow to the play and once Al has possession, he muscles his way to the hoop for a layup off the glass – and the foul.
Thornton misses the FTA. After shooting over 78% in January and February, Thornton is only 12-21 this month.
- [4th, 4:18] A really nice set against the Kings’ zone. Thornton is in the right corner as Dickau swings it left to Maggette up top. This leaves Thornton deep on the weak side. Thornton cuts baseline to overload the left side. He sets up outside the arc, extending the zone. After one more exchange with Dickau up top, Maggette sees Al open. Corey gets it over to him for the wide open 3PM.
- [4th, 3:03] The Clips are running some sort of weave – memories of the late Gentry days. Eventually, it’s Al’s turn to take the ball. Garcia never steps out on him, so Al launches the open 22-footer, but misses short. It’s a shot you want him to take 10 out of 10 times.
- [4th, 2:08] Powell holds the rock up top against Mikki Moore, while Thornton sets up on the right block, with Kaman on the left. Al runs a little cross-screen for Kaman, picking off Miller. The switch gives Al just enough time to collect the entry pass from Powell before Garcia can recover, though he does. But Al is already elevated for the little 8-foot jump hook in the lane. Pretty touch.
- [4th, 0:18] The Clips are down a pair. Off the Udrih miss, Kaman collects a ferocious rebound off a tip. He sends an outlet to Maggette in transition. Corey dribbles from one sideline to the far wing while everyone else gets upcourt. He then kicks it out to Dickau, who is effectively trailing the play. Dickau has a wide, wide open 3PA, but passes it up. Everyone in the building wanted him to take it. Instead, with the shot clock inside :10, Dickau swings it far side to Thornton above the arc. It’s straight isolation against John Salmons, a very strong cover. Thornton drives right to the top of the key, but Salmons stays with him. Thornton then crosses over to give himself just enough room to stop short, set, and launch a 20-footer falling back.
Silky. Tie game.
- [1OT, 4:01] Kaman stunts Brad Miller’s drive. As the ball comes loose, Powell sends the outlet to Thornton in transition up the near side. He never stops, until Mikki Moore smothers him.
He makes 1 of 2.
- [1OT, 2:40] Thornton is now officially the Clippers’ first option. Dickau gets it to Thornton off the box on the left side against Garcia. Garcia won’t bite on the ball fake. Al tries again, this time with a jab step. There’s still :10 left on the shot clock, and there are enough good options on the floor that I’d prefer to see Al kick it back out for a reset. But he takes the contested 18-footer instead and misses.
Powell battles on the glass and comes down with the rebound. His putback doesn’t fall, but Kaman grabs it. Amazingly – and you’d almost prefer not to see it – he shuttles a bounce pass in traffic to a diving Thornton. His layup just spins out, but he’s fouled. Again, he makes one of two.
- [1OT, 2:01] The Clips are down two here. This set is quick to materialize. Thornton starts on the left wing. Kaman is off the right block. Thornton flashes high, using Kaman to cut off Garcia. Al collects the ball, picks up steam, then drives right baseline against Miller off the switch.
It’s a beautiful move. As Miller blocks his baseline path, Al crosses over left, then suspends himself for a sick layup. It’s tied.
- [1OT, 1:07] As Dickau holds it up top right, Garcia is doing a nice job keeping Thornton from getting any kind of position in front of Dickau. He moves low to start again. Finally, with about :05 remaining, Thornton manages to wiggle away from Garcia and step back out to the perimeter, where Al collects it. The only thing Al can do here is create off the dribble and hope for the best. He starts his drive, but once the help comes in the person of Moore, Al stutters, then walks.
- [2OT, 4:35] The Kings stick Mikki Moore on Thornton to start the second overtime. With :08 on the shot clock, Mobley dumps it into Thornton in the mid-right post against Moore. A little ball fake, then a couple of deliberate left-handed dribbles and a step back, before starting a drive to his right.
Just as soon as Al, turns the corner on Moore, Miller steps over to cut off the baseline. Instead of forcing his way above or through Miller, Al steps back. The funny thing is that he has the shot, but looks elsewhere. Then realizing there’s nothing else, he spins and shoots. Airball as the clock expires.
The good news here is that he recognizes the help and changes course. The bad news is that he gives up a shot that’s about as good as you can hope for with :02 left on the clock.
- [2OT, 3:31] Thornton sets up on the left elbow while Mobley holds it on the right wing. Al gets something that resembles but isn’t quite a screen from Dickau to cut over to the ball side, just in front of Mobley off the right block. It’s a simple iso against Moore. Thornton drives baseline with ease and finishes with a vicious reverse slam. And the foul.
- [2OT, 2:49] The Kings have closed to 2 with a beautiful UCLA cut with Udrih and Garcia. On the ensuring possession, Moore fouls out. So on the inbound, Thornton draws Shelden Williams. Thornton hangs out at the right elbow for a while, but nothing materializes for the Clips. So with :07 left, Thorton sets a high screen for Dickau. The Kings get crossed up. At first they trap Dickau, so Thornton sets up on the perimeter. By the time Williams realizes that the best place he can be is on the arc guarding Thornton, it’s too late.
With :02 remaining on the clock, Al steps into a perfect 3PM. Clips by five with 2:49 remaining.
- [2OT, 1:12] The Clips wisely try the high S/R with Dickau and Thornton again, and why not? This time, it’s Williams with a quick show, but Udrih declides to run under the screen. This allows Thornton to poke through and set up on the arc to Dickau’s right. Williams recovers as best he can, but Dickau has already passes it off and Thornton is launching the 3PA. This time it’s no good but, again, it’s a shot you’ll take.
- [2OT, 0:51] This time we’re on the defensive end with the Clippers up three. The Kings run a very high S/R with Udrih and Miller. The Clips trap Udrih [Dickau and Powell]. As Miller slips the screen, Thornton quickly picks him up in the paint. Maggette moves over on Williams and Mobley does his best to patrol the weak side perimeter. Nice defensive rotation all around by the Clippers.
Udrih dribbles into trouble up against the baseline, but manages to find Miller underneath in traffic. Miller goes up, but is blocked by Thornton. Al grabs the loose ball, and is fouled by Miller. He sinks one of two.
- [2OT, 0:19] Bizarre play. The Clips are up four with 21 seconds remaining. On the inbound, Sacramento clearly tries to foul Thornton intentionally with, like, three guys -- but nothing is whistled. Instead, Thornton squirts through the scrum and gets an open driving slam to put the Clippers up six and only :19 seconds left.
Best of all, Thornton does it all on only two turnovers. Add to the 27 points four block shots and five boards.
What’s most encouraging is that, unlike Monday night, Al seems to grasp his role in the context of each play: Is he supposed to get his shot by exploiting the attention he’s getting on the perimeter? Or by filling space created by a cutter like Maggette? Does he recognize that he can use Kaman’s body as a traffic cone to free himself coming over from the weak side? Can he anticipate when the defense might botch a switch and be ready to act as he did on those S/Rs with Dickau in the second OT? Does he recognize sets in which he needs to be patient? Alternatively, does he recognize when he’s got just enough time and space to make that baseline drive before the help arrives?
From the fourth quarter on tonight, the answer to all of the above is yes.