It’s very rare to see a game swing so dramatically in the very first minutes. The Clippers come out and hit their first two shots, and it’s easy to find yourself hoping that the positive momentum from the New York win is carrying over. This hope ends quickly though when Marcus Camby goes down with a nasty looking ankle injury. When this happens you can visibly notice the entire teams body language change dramatically, and as shoulders slump and heads tilt downwards, you realize any hope of an already improbable upset is basically gone.
After Marcus goes down, the Spurs smell blood and relentlessly attack the Clippers interior defense with high screen and rolls. Zach Randolph’s defense is predictably poor, but his guards do him no favors by continually getting hung up on screens. Zach needs to either hedge, show, or switch, but on multiple occasions he chooses to do none of these things, and instead sits indecisively in no man’s land. Parker’s easy 8 points in 2 minutes in the first quarter are all a direct result of horrific team defense. Yes, Zach Randolph needs to decide how he’s going to defend the pick and roll, but the weakside defenders need to collapse to the paint to help out. You can literally count on one hand the number of contested shots the Spurs have to take in the first period. Everything comes entirely too easy, and the Spurs nearly tie their season high for first quarter points with 39.
There are things we have come to learn this season about the Clippers defensive deficiencies, and they are on full display again tonight. The team simply can not defend high pick and rolls, and perhaps even more disconcerting is that the coaching staff seemingly doesn’t have a plan on how they would like to defend them. Defensive rotations continue to be slow at best. Just about every NBA player can hit an open jump shot with consistency (Hide your eyes Quentin Ross), yet the Clippers continue to lackadaisically close out on everyone. The effort just isn’t there. They don’t show up tonight, and it’s evidenced by the Spurs only turning over the ball 3 times all game.
Even the most optimistic of Clippers fans shouldn’t have expected a win tonight though. A Spurs team at home and at full strength is near impossible to beat. Baron Davis may have been able to help the cause, but he was sidelined tonight with a combination of the cramps and the flu. The good side to this was that we got to see what Mike Taylor could do running the team, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. In a season where wins and losses have ceased to matter, it’s important that we get a good long look at our young talent.
Mike Taylor is the best Clipper tonight, going 10 for 13 for 23 points and only turning the ball over once against one of the best defensive teams in the league. Time after time he makes the Spurs pay for not respecting his jumper. The way he motors around the court at a frantic pace is a joy to watch. Taylor plays with a passion that’s evident in both close games and in blowouts. He’s a competitor, and it’s evident when he gets upset when things go wrong, and plenty goes wrong tonight. In most situations in basketball, throwing your hands to your sides in disgust is a bad thing. It’s considered bad body language, and it usually has a negative effect on the team. Clippers fans, however, should embrace this type of reaction. Mike Taylor getting upset about his team giving up an easy bucket means he cares. Baron Davis has alienated a lot of fans by playing poorly in losses, and then smiling and hamming it up on the bench or at the end of games. Losing doesn’t sit as well with Mike Taylor, and that in itself is refreshing.
With Mike Taylor playing so well in his increased role the last two games, it’s easy to wonder why DeAndre Jordan is still sitting at the end of the bench during games. Playing Marcus Camby 35 minutes a game is not going to increase or decrease his trade value at this point in the season. Bringing Chris Kaman in for major minutes while he’s recovering from an injury is also a bad idea. Zach Randolph doesn’t need to play 40 minutes under any circumstances. Why not let DeAndre get some more burn? Tonight is a perfect example of why he should be getting more time. He might be a mess offensively, but he’s an excellent rebounder and shot blocker. Right now is the best time to let him go out and make mistakes and learn from them. If he is going to be a piece of our future, and I believe that he is, why not let him learn the ropes right now? He’s not developing by hanging out with Ricky Davis on the bench. Put him in for about 8 minutes in the first half, and if he plays well, leave him in the game. If DeAndre’s draft stock plummeted because he dealt poorly with pressure at A&M, why not let him gain some confidence that will better equip him to handle those pressure situations? Blocking a Tim Duncan shot can do wonders for your confidence. It’s beneficial for everyone to play him; DeAndre gets to learn on the job and the coaching staff gets a glimpse of what might be the not so distant future. What’s the worst thing that can happen from playing our young guys? We gain a few extra lottery balls.
Eric Gordon has played well all year, and Mike Taylor and DeAndre Jordan have looked great in flashes. From top to bottom, this draft class is one of the better ones the Clippers have ever had.
This rookie class is promising. One day, hopefully sometime before we are all hooked up to respirators, the Clippers will be contenders again.
Keep the faith.