Friday night the Clippers actually had a nationally televised game. Most likely it was due to the fact that they drafted Blake Griffin, and thus could be interesting to watch. Unfortunately, with Griffin out, plus up-and-coming soph Eric Gordon, and the team sucking, it looked like the scorching hot Denver Nuggets would have an easy blowout. The Nugs came out strong, and within the first quarter they were already up by 12. Nugget & Clipper fans everywhere started thumbing through the TV Guide to see what else was on. However, early-MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony sat down, and the Clippers’ second unit came in with a passion. After a 19-0 run, the Clips were up by 7 within the first few minutes of the second quarter. Things got close in the fourth quarter, but the Clippers kept their lead the rest of the game.
Is this a harbinger that ooh, child, things are gonna get better? Or is it just one of those even-a-broken-clock-is-right-twice-a-day things? Do we just happen to match up extremely well with the Nuggets? Were we only motivated ‘cuz we were on national tv?
Well, what were some of the differences between this game and previous ones (besides the resulting tally in the win-loss column)? First, after having a solid previous game, Ricky Davis was promoted to the starting line-up, pushing Rasual Butler to the bench. The other big change was that Mardy Collins came in and got some genuine minutes. Sure, sure, there were other minor things like Novak only playing a minute & DeAndre Jordan getting a bit more run than normal, but none were as big a change as those first two things.
Mike Dunleavy gets a lot of crap (justifiably) from fans, but I have to say that I’ve been impressed with how he keeps tinkering with the line-up. I’m not talking huge, crazy changes like Larry Brown did with the Knicks a few years ago (when he did the bizarre thing of making bench players starters for a game if the team was playing in their hometown). Dunleavy hasn’t been making random, reckless alterations, like starting Brian Skinner. However, he has made small adjustments when rotation players aren’t performing up to snuff. He’s tried to find something that works, and has given his bench players chances to prove they can help. It can be hard for a coach to remain that open to change and to be able to see players as they currently are, not as they’ve been in the past. Everyone (including the coaches presumably) came into the season thinking Rasual Butler would be a huge benefit to the team with his shooting, while Ricky Davis could cause problems and that he doesn’t seem to be quite the explosive player he used to be. So to see Ricky perform great the previous game, and allow yourself to consider that he could be different than what he’s shown in the past… well, that takes a genuinely flexible type of thinking. The type never associated with Dunleavy in the past.
That said, Ricky Davis still only played 11 minutes, but he was relatively solid, hitting 2-of-4 shots and 1-for-1 from the three-point line. However, Rasual coming in off the bench had his best game yet, leading the team with 27 points. Maybe the demotion lit a fire under his butt. The really big surprise though was the play of Mardy Collins. If you look in The Book Of NBA Lexicon, the term “fifteen player” is defined as “one who is there simply as a practice player, while during actual games he must wave towels.” And right under that definition is a photo of Mark Madsen & Mardy Collins, arms around each other, grinning & swinging towels. Yet Mardy, a C-grade PG, played hustling A-grade defense while out there. He made ‘Melo struggle a bit, plus wrecked general havoc on Denver’s offense by his help D and snagging of four steals. Also, wisely Dunleavy never had Mardy play point. He was always in with either Baron or Telfair. Thus on offense Mardy went from being a poor point guard to being a shooting guard/small forward with above average passing skills.
So what good new attributes, if anything, can we expect to carry over to tonight’s game against Minnesota? I think we can safely assume Mardy will get minutes again. And his defensive energy will inspire the other Clips again, kicking the D up a notch again. Second, probably Ricky Ricky will start again. The question though is: did Rasual play better because he got to see the flow of the game before coming in, or was he the definition of the broken-clock-theory. I’d say somewhere in the middle. Rasual has been shooting awful-bad-like, and it seemed like it’d only be a matter of time before he edged back up towards his past percentages. However, expecting him to shoot over 50% and get to the line 7 times…? That’s fool’s gold. Also of note is that once again, Butler took the most shots on the team, 15, versus Baron at 11, and Kaman & Thorton with both just 10. Don’t get me wrong, 27 points on 15 shots is friggin’ amazing. I’m just hoping that Rasual realizes it was only okay to shoot that much ‘cuz he was truly feeling it, AND he took most of his shots in the rhythm of the game, not with a defender in his face.
In the end, I dunno which way the team’s going. Eric Gordon apparently isn’t gonna return tonight, which is a bummer. Luckily, we play against the T-Wolves who, after winning the first game of the season, haven’t won since. If we don’t underestimate these guys and instead come in focused and determined, we can win the game. Then if Gordon returns for our next game, maybe we can get on a roll. However, if the magic from Friday’s game isn’t there tonight and we lose, even Gord himself won’t save us.