Game Notes: Bucks at Clippers
Clippers end gruesome losing streak.
After hanging with the Lakers the last few weeks, I figured it was time to get a reality check, take the ‘vator down from the penthouse, and check in with the other L.A. team that shares Staples Center. You know the one, cursed year in and year out, tends to pile up more injuries than victories, motto is, if something can go wrong, it will. And does.
That’d be the Clippers, bro.
And no team offers up such a hard dose of cold reality, whether it be bad luck, players who under-perform, or trades that go bust in the night. Now before you make fun of the red-and-blue, consider that they’re banged up worse than Plaxico after a night of clubbing. Yeah, I hear you, injuries are part of the game, but these aren’t just any injuries—not when the guys are named Baron Davis, Zach Randolph and Chris Kaman. That’s 51 ppg between ‘em, who’ve only played together for 12 of the Clips 39 games (Clips’ record in those games: 6-6).
Imagine the Suns having to make do without Amar’e, Nash and Shaq, or the Spurs forced to soldier on without Manu, Timmy and Tony P. Not that I’m putting the Clips’ trio on par with those guys, but c’mon folks. Right now, this team doesn’t stand a chance.
Storytellers always look for symmetry, and since the Clips’ 12-game losing streak began with a 119-85 thumping in Milwaukee on Dec. 20, it seemed only appropriate to see if they could end the streak against the team that started it. And as you all know by now, they did. Here’s how.
It’s a long way from Christmas Day, when more than a dozen reporters and camera crews crowded into the Lakers’ dressing room before the Celtics game.
A thrilling Saturday night encounter against the Bucks has drawn five of us to coach Mike Dunleavy’s press conference, which takes on the friendly feeling of a fireside chat, without the fire. Dunleavy’s dying for a win, but he can also see players stepping up to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the injuries: the improved play of rookie Eric Gordon and soph Al Thornton, the aggressive play of Marcus Camby, and the leadership of point guard Mardy Collins. As tough as this season has been, he’s proud of his guys because they play hard, are in a lot of the games, and haven’t let the losing streak destroy them. He laments the lack of a low post game with Zach out; this is a coach who clearly hasn’t gotten over the loss of Elton Brand.
Most of all, Dunleavy is happy to report that Baron and Zach were on the court taking shots. Which leads to the most revealing moment of the session, when a veteran columnist, a provocateur who’s not happy unless he’s causing dissent, puts Dunleavy on the spot about BD’s medical issues, which now include a bum knee to go along with the bruised tailbone that has kept him out of the last eight games.
Given BD’s rumored preference to return to Golden State, the columnist wonders whether he’s in no rush to get back on the court, at least until there’s someone reliable to pass to. Dunleavy earnestly says he trusts his medical team to let him know when players are healthy enough to play, but he doesn’t raise his voice, doesn’t defend Baron, doesn’t tell the columnist where to go with his suspicions. Interesting.
I walk into the Clippers’ locker room, which is a lot less interesting. It’s deserted, save for Thornton and Fred Jones, a guard living tenuously on his second 10-day contract. Thornton says this is the worst losing streak he’s ever endured, including high school football, and that it feels awful. I wish I could tell you more of what Thornton said, but the man takes mumbling to a new art form, leaning far back in his chair and rattling off a stream of comments inaudible enough to frustrate the surveillance guys at NORAD.
Eric Gordon strolls by, and I try to ask him if he’s worried about stopping Michael Redd, who only dropped 44 points the previous night in Sacramento—in three quarters. “Ask him,” says Gordon, waving at Jones, before exiting the room. Is Jones going to be covering Redd? “I will at some point,” Jones says helpfully.
I head over to the Bucks’ side, and just miss Redd, who I’m told has just gone off to chapel. If anyone should be saying their prayers tonight, it’s Gordon. I catch up with Charlie Villanueva briefly. Now, athletes will always tell you that they don’t want to be the team that ends another team’s losing streak; they’re happy to kick ‘em when they’re down, and Villanueva’s no different. “We want to step on their throat,” he says.
Somebody must’ve stepped on Villanueva’s throat: he shot 3-12 and was never a factor.
The Clips get a break: Bucks center Andrew Bogut is out with back spasms. I was wondering what those screams were echoing down the hall.
– Clips running offense to perfection: Camby hits first basket just as shot clock expires. If they can control the clock like that all game, they could win this.
– Redd makes an uncontested 3. No wonder Gordon didn’t want to talk about guarding him.
– Brian Skinner’s goatee commits a foul.
– Richard Jefferson is so wide-open for a 3 he has time to order a cappuccino. (All right—that’s enough of this Facebook stuff. It can be habit-forming).
— I never thought a man could fly until Camby swoops in from the luxury boxes for a rebound jam to make it 18-16.
– With 4:00 left, the Clips lead, 24-19. To put that in perspective, they didn’t get their 24th point on Wednesday night (against the Hawks) until midway through the 2nd. Things are looking up.
– Damned if Dunleavy isn’t right. His team is scrapping, filling the lane, kicking it out, throwing alley oops, and playing like a team desperate to end a losing streak. Not only that—they’re knocking down shots, to the tune of 15-23, 65 percent, and Skinner (4-5) is tearing it up. The Clippers haven’t shot 50 percent for a game all season.
– Unfortunately, the Bucks match their 65 percent shooting, and it’s 32-30 Clips after one.
– Ricky Davis, looking happy to be back from his five-game suspension for testing positive, beats the shot clock to open the quarter.
– Steve Novak hits first shot. For the season, he’s at 54 percent from downtown, but Dunleavy can’t seem to get him more shots. Or playing time.
– Fred Jones loses ball, then misses a shot, then travels. Nothing like the pressure of a 10-day contract about to expire.
– DeAndre Jordan converts a beautiful reverse slam off a perfect alley oop from Collins. Jordan will enjoy two more resounding slams; Collins will hand out 11 assists. Who needs Baron Davis?
– The Bucks lead, 53-52 at the half. Skinner has 14 points on 7-8 shooting. Redd also has 14, but they’re quieter. And the Clips are still shooting 59 percent.
– Watching the Clips patchwork lineup alternate between great plays and bone-headed ones make me feel like I’m watching a college team at times. Adding to the collegiate experience: cheerleaders executing pyramids. Even the Laker Girls won’t try that.
– Thornton shows off an unstoppable turnaround J, Richard Jefferson helpless to stop him. If that shot starts going down on a regular basis, look out.
– Bucks backup center Dan Gadzuric is friends with anyone who can feed him a pass above the rim. (Last Facebook reference—apologies).
– From a distance, especially if I remove my glasses, Bucks PG Luke Ridnour looks about 12.
– Gordon is having a rough shooting night, the Bucks harassing and bumping him, but he follows his own miss with a put back, then drills a 3. The kid’s tenacious. He’s going to be a star in this league. And I don’t mean the Development League, either.
– This is a spirited, fast-paced game: few free throws, few clock stoppages, lots of movement. It may not get an encore showing on NBA Hardwood Classics, but the Clippers are playing to the limits their talent will allow, and right now, they’re beating the Bucks in the paint and on the fast break.
– Courtside celebs spotted behind the Clippers bench: Baron Davis and Chris Kaman. Oh wait—those guys are Clippers.
– Gordon not afraid to attack. With 10 seconds to go, he barrels into the lane, splits three defenders, knocks Francisco Elson on his ass, and gets the foul. This guy’s heart. Along with Camby and Collins, he’s one of the reasons why the Clippers may be the best 9-30 team in history.
– Clippers lead 77-76 after 3. They’re 0-17 this season when scoring under 90, and 0-11 when shooting under 40 percent for a game. Both of those marks appear safely out of reach tonight.
– Sensing a W, the Clips put the clamps on. A Novak three caps an 8-0 run to start the quarter, 85-76. The Bucks will get no closer than 5 the rest of the way.
— With 8:53 to go, the scariest moment of the game. After another one of his Superman-grabs-an-offensive-rebound moments, Camby topples to the floor in agony, grabbing either his ankle or knee. He lies motionless on the floor for abut five minutes while a silent crowd contemplates yet another disaster. How is it possible for one team to be so snake bit? Camby hobbles off to the locker room.
– Three minutes later, Camby walks slowly back to the Clippers bench. It’s not exactly Willis Reed in Game 7 vs. the Lakers, but it’s encouraging. Maybe the Clips have dodged a bullet for once.
– In the crowd, a small boy dances in his seat. He wears a Brett Favre Packers jersey. Hasn’t anyone told him?
– Lawler’s Law, which says the first team to 100 points wins the game, is a healthy 19-4 this year. About to go to 20, as the Clippers hit the century mark.
– A standing O as they run down the clock for a 101-92 win.
The Clippers earned this one by shooting 54.5 percent, dominating the Bucks in the paint, 48-22, and beating them off the boards, 48-30.
There’s nothing happier than a locker room that’s just gotten a monkey off its back, and a coach realizing that an apparent serious injury may turn out to be just a sprain. Camby is listed as day-to-day. He walked with a noticeable limp in the locker room, and disappeared to the back for treatment.
“Epsom salts!” shouted Jordan at Camby. “That’s what my grandmother always says.”
Asked whether the team said anything when Camby went down, Mardy Collins shook his head. “We knew what we had to do, and that was continue to play hard,” he said. “Guys were out there battling, playing 40 minutes. We had lots of ball movement and tried to put a lot of pressure on them.”
“It felt good,” Collins added with massive understatement, “to get a win.”