One minute and two ugly possessions into the fourth quarter, Mike Dunleavy looks down the bench and calls Baron Davis’ number. The Clippers still lead by 12, though the game seems far more precarious given the events of the past week.
As Baron ambles over to the scorers’ table to check in at the next dead ball, the Clippers fail to execute their first two options on their third possession — a pin-down for Rasual Butler, then a Butler-Craig Smith pick-and-roll. With nothing materializing and the shot clock ticking down, Butler returns the ball to the top of the floor, where Mardy Collins must now create. Collins’ driving floater doesn’t fall through, and neither does Chris Kaman’s tip. After a trailing Tyrus Thomas drains a 12-footer in transition, the Clippers call timeout, their 18-point lead now sheared to 10.
With Baron back on the floor, the Clippers’ offense is marginally better — though it doesn’t really come together in the fourth quarter until Eric Gordon checks in for Collins at the 7:05 mark, and even then the Clippers aren’t executing all that elegantly.
This game is won the way most of the Clippers’ 21 Ws have been earned — on the defensive end of the floor.
The Bulls can’t find a good look against the Clippers’ defense and go well over six minutes without a field goal. Over an 11-possession stretch, Chicago’s only points come on a couple of Kirk Hinrich free throws courtesy of a strange foul call that has the officiating crew in conference for an eternity.
Offensively, it might come as some surprise that the Clippers have their least efficient night since the loss at Boston. The Clips light it up in the first quarter, scoring 31 points on 24 possessions. They execute the two-man game with Gordon and Kaman to perfection out of the gate (1st, 11:45; 1st, 11:10), and orchestrate some great-looking high-low sets later in the quarter with Camby and Kaman (1st, 5:50; 1st, 4:42). After that, the Clippers coast primarily on the strength of their defense.
Efficiency numbers aside, it’s an important offensive game for a number of guys:
- Chris Kaman appears a lot more comfortable as a jump shooter than as a post practitioner, but you’d never know he’s nursing a bad ankle. He grabs 11 rebounds and dishes out some pretty assists. The Clips are now a .500 team when Kaman suits up. Whether it’s because he’s talented, or because his coach has made him the entry point for the offense, or because he’s a lot more valuable than his defensive replacements, it’s increasingly clear that the Clippers aren’t going to compete without a healthy Kaman.
- For the first time since the home winning streak, Eric Gordon resembles Eric Gordon: a smart, willful guard who knows how to leverage his range to help his dribble game — and vice versa. It’s also nice to see some non-binary numbers in those rebound and assist columns.
- Apart from Boston, Rasual Butler hasn’t given the Clippers much, but tonight he’s perfect from beyond the arc and finishes with 16 points on nine true shots. Although Luol Deng burns him early a couple of times, Butler makes the necessary adjustments. He prepares himself for that low curl Deng runs off Noah, and he’s less inclined to drop off Deng to help on penetration. That’s what you want from a defender who gets torched in the opening minutes of a game: Adjust and move on. Butler does that and Deng never gets it going again.
A tidbit from the good folks at ESPN Stats & Info: The Clippers’ starting 5 of Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Rasual Butler, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman enter Tuesday night as the 9th-best 5-man unit in the league by +/-. Against the Bulls, the Clippers starters combined to score 80 of the team’s 90 points.
Are the Clippers are as good as they play tonight in Chicago?
Probably not, but they’re also not as bad as they’ve played over the past week.
Order will be restored again once the team gravitates toward its mean.