No, there was no power shortage at the Clippers’ hotel that prevented their alarm clocks from waking them up. They weren’t told the game would be later & thus had to scramble. Nor did some foul fiend slip the whole team mickeys to knock ‘em out. The game was in L.A., so they weren’t all in the same hotel and of course didn’t all eat together, so that rules out foul play from an outsider. The team was even at the court on-time to prepare beforehand, yet somehow they still managed to sleepwalk through nearly 40 minutes of the game.
Those first 40 minutes were painful to watch. I can’t believe I even stuck with it. Less than three and a half minutes into the game, the Clips were down 11-2. Under four minutes into the second quarter they were down by 13. A few minutes later they were down by 15 points and it stayed at about that level through half. In the third quarter the lead kept sneaking up bit by bit, Grizz up by 16, by 17, by 18. With just 2:25 remaining in the third, the Clips hit their nadir and were down by 20. I was set to turn off the TV. I figured if I wanted to cause myself pain rather than keep watching I could just hammer a nail into my pinkie right away and then have the next half hour free. The third ended with the Clips down 16, and the fourth started with the Grizz hitting their first shot and increasing the lead to 18. I started putting on my shoes to go outside. Only 8:04 left in the game and the Clips were still down by 15. There was no reason to expect things to change. But despite having only cut the lead down by one point since the start of the quarter, there was something about the Clippers’ energy that seemed different. Maybe it’s the cock-eyed Clipper optimist in me, but for some reason I felt like they were about to have a run. Hey, I wasn’t insane: I didn’t think the Clips would win it down by that much with so little time left, but I felt they might get some momentum going and perhaps learn something here. I never in a million years would’ve guessed that they’d go on a 27-2 run the rest of the way.
Once again, Al Thornton turned into the aggressor in the fourth, but this time he was joined (or perhaps led?) by Eric Gordon. Gordon, who’d attempted several threes from a few feet behind the line and had airballs on I believe three of ‘em, forgot about the longball and went into attack mode. He started doing one-man fast breaks, going up against two Grizz defenders and either getting the basket or/and the foul. Thornton joined in, and the two of them alone got 15 points on fast breaks. However the more significant thing was that the Clippers stepped up their defense. In that last quarter they had five steals and six blocks! They were hassling everyone, causing the Grizz’s formerly smooth running offense to get nervous, tighten up and go into panic mode.
Also, the Grizz stopped going to what had worked for them before. When it looked like the Clips were gonna get trounced, I was gonna write how one of the reasons Memphis did so well was ‘cuz they recognized when players were having off-nights. So far this season, none of our players have been consistently good. Kaman started out great, but like four out of five of the last games he’s sucked. Baron’s had some amazing games, but some real stinkers too. Al Thornton started out sucking, but has come along. Eric Gordon started the season strong, but got injured and this was the first game he seemed to have regained his form. Rhino & Telfair have had their nights, heck, even Rasual seemed like a golden god the one night he went off for 27, but it’s a complete mystery who’ll show up each night. Now even greats like Kobe, LeBron, whoever, have less than stellar nights, but there’s a range of how bad they can be. Like if Kobe’s shooting 46% this season, he may have nights where he shoots 40-41%, but it’s maybe a once-in-the-year occurrence that he’ll hit in his 30s or godforbid the 20s. Kaman, meanwhile has swung from the 20s to the 60s constantly, which ain’t acceptable.
But hey, players have off-nights, and teams have to deal with it. The Lakers still win Kobe shoots 40% now, versus during the season of the 81-point game, if he had an off-night, the team’d lose. There was no one else to make up for it. Now they have Bynum, Gasol, Odom and Artest who are all capable of getting 20 points on any given night. Well, they’re the world champs you might say. Yes, but it’s not like we don’t have offensive depth either. If Kaman’s having an off-night, then we’ve got Baron, Thornton and now once again Eric Gordon. The key is being aware who’s having an off-night and who’s on fire, and feeding that hot-hand. There shouldn’t be games where Baron or Kaman go 3-for-17. At a certain point, ya gotta realize who’s feeling it, rather than force feeding it to the players who should be the big horses.
Until that fourth quarter, the Griz were a perfect example of that. OJ Mayo was having a slightly off-night, shooting 33.3%, but as a result he only took 6 shots. Zach Randolph, he of the usual 20 & 10, had only hit one shot, but he’d also only taken 7 (which is dang low for him). Versus Marc Gasol led in shot attempts with 15, ‘cuz he’d made 12! Second in shot attempts was Rudy Gay with 12, ‘cuz he was shooting 50% which is great for a swingman. On the Clipper side, Baron, who’d started out shooting well, had been pushing and was now down to only 5 for 14. By going to Thornton & Gordon in the fourth rather than forcing it to Baron & Kaman, we adjusted to who was actually shooting well that night. And as a result, both Kaman and Baron also shot better in the fourth quarter than they’d been shooting because they no longer were being counted on as the sole producers. They got to choose their spots and only attack when they had the right moments.
Now will this intensity and intelligence carry over into the next game? I dunno. I mean this is the second game in the row that the Clippers had a big comeback in the fourth, so me I’m worried that the lesson they’ll take away is that they can always sleep in during the first three quarters of a game and then just wake up at the end and win it. Ugh. Maybe they need a nighttime curfew on the eve of games to make sure they’re fully awake by the next time they hit the hardwood.