Monkey Departs From Back: Clippers Get 1st Win, or, How To Win Like Michael Jordan & Kobe Bryant.

It wasn’t pretty — okay, it was ugly — but the Clips finally got their first win.  After possibly making history by losing 4 games in October (since the season starts the end of October, I dunno if any team has ever even played 4 games in the month before), they broke on through to the other side.  This has been a tough stretch to start the season.  First, learning the day before the season starts that Blake Griffin is seriously injured, and then having to play 5 games in 7 days is insane.  Particularly considering the first four teams all made the playoffs last year.

If the team was able to show its potential for greatness in its loses, then we must be honest that they also showed their potential for suckiness in this win.  The Clippers came out on fire, shooting like 65+% from the field in the first quarter, yet the Timberwolves stayed close because the Clips kept turning the ball over as if they thought they’d find treasure underneath it.  As a result, when the Clips started missing shots in the second half, Minnesota was not only able to tie it up, but to also get the lead.

One of the key indicators of how good a team is, is their point differential.  The top teams will whup bad teams, never letting them get back into the game.  Even if you’re clearly better than the other team (as I believe the Clippers are compared to the T-Wolves at this point in time), if it becomes a one-possession game at the end, you leave a decent part of the result to chance.  Even the top closers in the game, like Kobe and Jordan before him, have lost many games when they had clear open shots that they normally make at a good percentage.  But that’s the key word, percentage.  Even with no one guarding them, the best shooter in the world is still gonna miss some 15-foot jump shots.

That being said, let’s not be slitting our wrists after we finally win.  And not just ‘cuz a win is a win.  Truth is that a team needs to learn how to win.  How to get a winning mentality.  I coach a team (not bball), and at the beginning of last season we’d be up, but then fold when things got tight, allowing the other team to come from behind and win.  As the season progressed, our team got stronger, no longer caving when the other team tried to make a run.  By the end, we had several games where we were the ones who were behind, but we had enough confidence that now we were the ones who stormed back to win.

Michael Jordan’s said that it was hitting the game-winning shot at North Carolina that finally gave him confidence to believe he could make those shots.  Of note is that the primary call on that play was for James Worthy to take the shot, with Jordan being the secondary option.  By Jordan being the back-up option, he didn’t go into it feeling pressure that this play was being called just for him and the fate of the whole team rested on him.  Instead, he was in a relative stress-free position of if-things-break-down-then-try-your-best.  Point being that one does need to learn how to win, how to close out games.  Kobe Bryant’s also famously known for shooting an air ball in I think his second year when he tried to win a playoff game against Utah.  However, he kept at it until he became one of the league’s best clutch shooters.

So it’s okay the Clippers won ugly.  They have a relatively easy next few games, and if they struggle but win those, that’s fine too.  Once they get a few in a row and are back towards .500, they’ll gain confidence and should start learning how to win, expecting themselves to win.  The key is just to get those wins to get some positive momentum going.  However, if they can’t pull off the victory in these upcoming games, then yeah, we’re screwed.

A few quick bits:

-Rasual Butler replaced Al Thornton in the starting line-up, which made many Clipper fans happy.  Me, not as much.  If the other day I said Camby never met a shot he didn’t like, then Rasual doesn’t even need to meet the shot to start liking it.  No, I dunno what that means (like he somehow shoots the ball before he even gets it?), but the two players who tied for most shot attempts last night were Kaman and yup, Rasual.  Don’t get me wrong, he should be a better fit for the starting line-up than Thornton, but it should be a rare occasion that he takes more than say 8 shot attempts.  And if he does take more than that on some nights it should only be ‘cuz he’s feeling it.  Last night he went 3 for 15.

-Speaking of Eric Gordon, one of the things that makes him so good is his efficiency ‘cuz he doesn’t force things.  However, being so unselfish, yes, sometimes his extra pass does give another player a nice wide open shot, but more often than not it results in a worse player forcing up junk.  And let’s be honest, unless it’s Kaman near the basket, I’d 100% rather take my chances with Gordon than anyone else on the team.

-Lastly, everyone’s been raving about how Kaman’s taken the next step, but to me I felt like he’s had those post-moves and outside shots for a while, it’s just he’s healthy now.  Leave it to the great Kevin Arnovitz to use last night’s game to point out what’s really changed in Kaman’s game: his movement without the ball.  Kaman came into camp in phenomenal shape, so I dunno if he’s gotten better at moving due to better endurance or if he’s learned to see the court better.  Either way, Arnovitz brilliantly highlights Kaman’s off-the-ball movement here (plus a crazy good almost-assist from Boom Dizzle).

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