Before we start, here’s a crazy stat they threw out during the broadcast: throughout history the Celtics and the Lakers have so dominated the league, that there is only one decade in which neither team won a championship. The league started in the 40’s, so we’re talking seven decades. That’s insane. If you wanna know what decade it was, the answer’s at the bottom.
It wasn’t always pretty, but sometimes winning ain’t pretty. And often that’s the only way to beat a top team like Boston. The Clippers struggled with Marcus Camby out, having to rely on DeAndre Jordan more than they’d like. DeAndre, who was great in the pre-season, has been making tons of “rookie” mistakes this season (I know, I know, he’s a second-year player). As a result, he’s been on a tight leash. Which of course makes him more nervous and uncertain… which leads to more mistakes. A lot of his problems really are mental. For instance, he worked really hard on his free-throw shooting this summer, and supposedly shot a decent clip during practices. However, during games his free throw shooting has reverted back to his stanky ol’ ways. He’ll get over this eventually and be a pretty good center, but for now he almost hurt the team last night.
Ahh, that’s a lame statement. No, DeAndre actually played darn well, and yes, his free throw shooting sucked, but is it fair to say that those misses were what caused the Clips to almost lose the game, versus say Eric Gordon’s turnovers? Obviously everyone had some flaws in their game. The only thing with DeAndre is that his difficulties at the line came at the end during a crucial stretch. It was in the Celtics’ best interest to just foul him, but as Ralph Lawler pointed out while announcing the game, they didn’t have much better options. The two other potential big men left to play alongside Kaman were Craig Smith and Brian Skinner, both of whom shoot in the 50s on free-throws.
No, no, let’s not go into negatives. That’s too easy in Clipperland. Here are the positives, and don’t get me wrong, they’re huge:
1. After getting shellacked by the Suns on Christmas Day, the team used that beating to motivate it in the right way, rather than going into a funk (as has often been the case in the franchise’s recent and, well, not-so-recent history).
2. Every time the Celtics made a run, the Clips hung tight and never gave up. This is similar to the first point, but that mental toughness is what separates the good teams from the bad ones. Some players could justifiably allow themselves to think, “Ugh, we got whupped by the Suns last game, and now the Celts are starting to pull away and there’s no way we can catch up with a team as good as them.” I guess it goes back to that mental confidence I was talking about with DeAndre Jordan. Take the Lakers’ Derek Fisher as an example: he has hit many big shots, so now he has confidence in his ability to hit ’em in crunch time. He’s nowhere near the shooter of say Michael Redd or Peja Stojakovic. However, if it came down to the end of the game, and the primary option (like Kobe) was shut down so you need a player to hoist up that last second shot on a broken play, I’d pick Fish over Redd or Peja. Many players might even end up throwing up an air ball, mostly ‘cuz they’re more nervous about just getting a shot up rather than actually believing they can win the game right there. If you don’t even believe you can toss up a last-second shot and win, then you can’t focus on hitting it. Which leads us to…
3. Baron Davis’ great composure in hitting that game winning shot with only one second left. We all know Baron puts up at least one or two shots a game that are awful, but this one was shot with confidence. He didn’t just heave this one. He turned and rose (& it looked like Rajon Rondo actually fouled Baron on the elbow as Dizzle was going up) and then SQUARED HIMSELF UP before shooting a beauty. He had only one second. If he missed, we would’ve just gone to overtime and no one would’ve blamed him for missing the shot (or even not getting one off), but he BELIEVED he could do it.
4. Along the same line, many fans have wondered who our closer is. Who shoots that final shot when the game is on the line? To me, it’s always been clear to me: it’s The Beard. Baron’s hit many big shots throughout his career and he’s never been afraid to take ’em. Even if Elton Brand had stayed and somehow returned to his previous All-Star ways (which’d involve shooting a mind-blowing 55+%), I still would’ve expected Baron to be our closer. After all, Brand may’ve been the key foundation of those Clip teams, but it was always the aged Sam Cassell who hit the big shots at the end. Your best closer ain’t always your best player. Going back to the Derek Fisher example: Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Ron Artest are far superior players to Fish, but with the game on the line, wouldn’t ya rather have Fish shoot it? Or Robert Horry? Anyway, hopefully Baron’s big shot will give both fans and Dunleavy more confidence that he should be that man.
Trivia Answer: The one decade neither LA or Boston won a title? The 90’s. The Lakers did make it to the Finals early in the decade, but this of course was the decade that was dominated by that one-man dynasty named Michael Jordan. Yup, it took the best player ever to shut out those two teams. In fact, perhaps there should even be an asterisk next to that claim. While Magic Johnson took the Lakers to the Finals at the beginning of the decade, by the end of it they now formed around some duo named Shaq and Kobe, who won their title in the 1999-2000 season. Yes, technically they won it in 2000, but since part of the season was in 1999, that’s gotta give ‘im at least an asterisk or somethin’, eh?