Like with many of their recent games, there were times the Clips looked great last night and there were times they looked… well, let’s just say that Patrick Ewing was at the game last night (he’s an assistant coach for Orlando) and there were times when he looked pretty compared to what the Clippers were doing on the court. And as everyone knows, Ewing, although I love him, is co-captain with ex-Clip Sam Cassell (who I also love) on the All-Ugly Team.
That said, what initially killed the Clips, who lost 97-86, is that the Magic were on-fire from behind the three-point line in the first quarter. In that period Orlando hit six of eight three-pointers. That’s 75%. Some teams can’t even hit 75% from the free-throw line where no one’s guarding ’em. Yeah, there were a few awful rotations leaving shooters fairly wide open, but still, them Magic boys were feeling it. I mean to shoot over 40% from the three is considered great. Had the Magic shot a blistering 40% that first quarter, they would’ve hit only three of those three-pointers instead of six. Meaning they would’ve had nine less points. A quarter that ended with the Clips behind by ten, could’ve just been a one-point difference. Considering they only lose by 11 points, that makes a big difference. It’s the difference between playing from behind for nearly the whole game, to being ahead for two to three quarters and coming into the fourth quarter with a nice lead.
But that said, anyone who watched last night’s game knows what the bigger problem was: the Clippers’ regular fourth quarter choke job. Which, sadly, Chris Kaman has become the perfect embodiment. In the fourth he gets nervous, misses shots, overthinks, or just loses the ball. At least last night he was consistently bad throughout so when the fourth came he didn’t need to kick his awfulness up a notch. In fairness, it was because Dwight Howard’s an intimidating presence around the basket. Kaman and DeAndre Jordan both biffed easy shots throughout because they were too worried about Dwight. By the fourth even Eric Gordon was driving and rather than attacking Dwight he tried to make a pass at the last second, but passed it to the other team.
One bright spot: Dunleavy finally went back to having Baron post up. And wouldn’t ya know it, the Magic started doubling him, enabling Le Baron to get other guys wide-open shots. Gordon still seems to be shaking the rust off his outside shot, so he missed some of ’em, but it was still a solid idea. Eventually, the Magic switched a bigger man onto Baron and put their PG, Jason Williams, on Eric Gordon. The Clips wisely then fed it to Gordon, who promptly beat up on Williams too. Finally, with five minutes left in the third, the Clippers got a one-point lead (their first lead of the entire game). As a result the Magic had no choice but to take out Williams, who’d done a good job both hitting threes and keeping the team organized, and put in journeyman Anthony Johnson.
The lead went back and forth for a couple more minutes, but then the Clips went dry, not hitting a single field goal for seven-and-a-half minutes. Was it because Anthony Johnson did such a phenomenal job? What happened that killed L.A.’s offense so suddenly? Coach Dunleavy. He took out Eric Gordon, then Baron Davis, and the ball movement thudded to a halt. The team looked discombobulated. That’s not to say that Dunleavy shouldn’t have taken them out. He just should have realized sooner that he needed to get them back in there. There have been games where Telfair has been better than Baron, or maybe Rhino’s attacking for that second unit. This wasn’t one of those times. Kaman and Thornton came back in, but both had been having sub-par evenings, and Al wasn’t able to drum up another fourth quarter spark. Dunleavy even tried throwing Steve Novak in to see if some offense could be created. Of course since the Clips haven’t worked on how to get Novak open shots when he’s in, Novak was hanging out near the basket and trying to set picks for other players. Nearly six minutes of scorelessness passed before Eric Gordon came back. Baron Davis returned after five minutes (although the Clips scored their first field goal right before he returned). It was too late. The Clips were down by 12 and there were only seven minutes left in the game.
That’s not to say that Gordon or Baron did anything great when they returned. Gordon turned it over twice (one of which was the time he went to the hoop and then passed it to a Magic-ian). Baron was blocked by Dwight on a layup and another time missed a jump shot. But by the time they were both back in, all momentum had been lost by us, and the Magic were feeling great again. As further proof, let’s go back to looking at those three-point shots. In the second and third quarters the Magic struggled and made only 5 of 18 three-pointers (or less than 28%). In the fourth they got their mojo back and hit 3 of 6 (or a very impressive 50%). The Clips, playing from behind, feeling pressure, started forcing things, ultimately scoring only 17 point in the last stanza. What do I know — maybe Dunleavy leaving our heavy-hitters out so long didn’t cost us the game? Maybe it was simply ‘cuz it was the fourth that the team sucked? Maybe the Clips would’ve still forced things even if they we weren’t down by twelve? Maybe they would’ve choked even if we were up by twelve? They’ve certainly done that before. But thanks to Dunleavy we’ll never know what would’ve happened if our stars had returned before the game was pretty much out of hand.