Let’s get right to the point: as sports fans, we love home runs, we love tooth-rattling tackles, and we love seeing extremely tall men dunk on each other’s domes.
This last fact of fandom is why a game between an LA Clipper team with it’s playoff chances just about flatlined and a floundering Orlando Magic team that got throttled by Boston a few days ago was voted onto the NBAtv Fan Night (or as Charles Barkley calls it, “Nerd Night”). Yes, the casual fan loves the high wire acts of both Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard, but the more discerning fan wants more than just hops and treys, they want actual analysis of their beloved Clip Show. I watched, I critiqued, I drank lemonade, I watched some more, and I broke this game all the way down to it’s bare essentials. The question, though- how can I break this down? Charts? Boring old recap? Puppet show? I took meticulous notes, pulled the curtain back a little. Be strong, it’s not always pretty, but let’s look at the night the LA Clippers had, for better or worst…
7:11 – Backpedalling back on defense, Griffin basically escorts Jason Richardson to the hoop with absolutely no attempt to disrupt the lay-up. Talkhoops Zach Harper mercilessly ridicules BG for his “saloon door” befense; seeing this, and remembering how Blake avoided a driving Jeff Teague like Miss Muffett avoided the spider, I guess he’s not very wrong.
3:12 – Nice defensive tactic by the Clips; they wait a few beats to double and send it from Howard’s blind shoulder. Here’s where DH picks up assists or “hockey assists”, passes leading to dimes. On cue, Howard skips a pass to JJ Redick, who splashes a J. The discipline of a veteran team is essential. Orlando shows it there.
2:03- Starting for the injured Eric Gordon, Randy Foye simply deconstructs JJ Redick with a tight cross-over; Foye’s J rims out, but leaving Redick on his rump should be worth 2 points. Good googly moogly.
1:06 - Honestly, this is a ragged, uneven game, even the commentators say,”Even the crowd is silent…” on cue, Jameer Nelson serves up one of those curse-word inducing alley oops to Dwight, where DH looks like he’s 10 feet tall, he’s eye level to the rim, and folks duck for cover.
10:45 – Clippers rook Al-Farouq Aminu pulls a gorgeous cross-and-go on Ryan Anderon; the Clippers are in desperate need for a small forward, but I’m confident that they just need a place-holder; in 2 years Aminu will be a legit starter alongside Blake and Eric Gordon. Of course, the next possession he barrels down the lane like an out of control toddler and levels 2 Magic players.
9:07 – Ike Diogu, man. Eric Bledsoe drops the dime in his lap, he finishes with authority. Say what you will about the Clippers bench, but 2 lottery picks (Diogu was 9th in ’05, Foye 7th in ’06) who maybe didn’t fit their draft spot, but are productive off of the bench (both chipping in 7 ppg), that’s a luxury in today’s talent starved reserve pool. Clippers up 30 – 28 after Gil picks a pass off and lays it in in the back court.
8:18 – With Dwight Howard taking a breather, it’s stunning how diffeent the Orlando offense is, and it’s mindboggling that Howard isn’t a lock for MVP. The pieces around him don’t play defense or rebound, yet Orlando is 4th in rebounds and 6th in points allowed. He’s the center, but the offense’s efficiency is designed around him wreaking havoc inside and drawing double teams. I realize Lebron James is the BEST player in the NBA, but there’s no whay in hell he’s more valuable to his team than Dwight Howard.
1:33 – Nelson drains a 3 on a delayed break; the story is that on the turnover leading up to it, Blake Griffin was loitering around the top of the key. He took several straightaway long jumpers and just doesn’t seem to have his usual pop. Could he be feeling ill effects of that gargantuan smash-up with Al Horford from the ATL game? Hitting that “rookie wall” a year removed from college? 46 – 42 Clippers, Baron Davis is running it with a 12-6-4 rbs line.
10:24 – As lackluster as Griffin has been, a lot of credit goes to Orlando doing a bang-up job with the zone. Anderson funnels him baseline where Howard meets him chest to chest on the key with the team rotating behind them. Blake looks implacable, but to be bottled up like he is must be frustrating.
5:16 – 3:58 – over this 1:18 stretch, LA’s downfall can be traced to this: Foye T/O (Nelson layup), Griffin blocked (J Rich layup) , Bledsoe ripped by J Rich, who lays it in, Aminu shoots an off-balance contested 3, leading to an easy Howard lay-up. In less than a minute and a half, a 53-52 lead for LA is turned into a 60-53 deficit. In 9 possessions, the Clips tally 5 turnovers and 5 misses (one possession had an offensive rebound in there). If not for ’07 Baron making a cameo (two 3s, a sick step back fade in the last 4 minutes), the Clip Show would have been ran out of the gym.
9:51 – Eric Bledsoe isgoing to be a very, very good impact player in the NBA. He can drift and look ordinary for stretches, but then he blazes, John Wall-like (but with more control), drops the slick dime to Diogu for another crush. Unreal.
7:33 – On the other end, Dwight Howard’s physicality has gotten to whoever the Clippers throw at him; he’s scoring at the rim while Griffin and Jordan seem nailed to the floor, he’s challenging everything in the paint, he’s generally controlling the game. Orlando goes pick, roll, and repeat, over and over; there’s a 2nd 10 – 0 Orlando run as Arenas drops a slick pass to Earl Clark for a flush, and the airport shuttle taking the Clippers back to their flight starts it’s engine.
The rest is window dressing. Orlando downs LA 101 – 85, Blake Griffin ends up with a measley 10 and 12 rebounds on 33% shooting, and Baron Davis’ throwback 25-8-8 is for naught. What did we learn from this game? I’d say nothing we didn’t already know. Orlando has more depth, experience, and Dwight Howard, while the young Clippers don’t have their no. 1 scoring option. The Clips look like a quality NBA team at times; they share the ball, and they WANT to do the right thing. Their bench provides a nice change of pace and yeoman’s work inside, but the overall lack of outside shooting and the long lapses in concentration are tough to overcome. Today just belonged to the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard.