It has been a familiar sight this season to see a team that matches up well with the Clippers. The Clippers indeed match up at most key positions, unfortunately, they are so young and not ready to win ball games, that the mistakes build up and create a fence to high to clear.
After Blake Griffin's 44 point, 15 rebound breakout performance the other night against the Knicks, he has an even higher standard to maintain. Unfortunately, nothing is happening around him. It must be frustrating to be on the court for the entire team, but they all realize this is an opportunity. Some are seizing the opportunity, but it certainly has not translated into team success of any kind yet.
Tonight it was Chris Paul's turn to damage this broken Clippers team, and he started early as the Hornets took a 37-33 lead after one quarter. Then the Hornets jumped to a 9-2 advantage in the 2nd quarter's first few minutes. Entering the game with an 11-1 record (tied for NBA's best record) the 1-13 Clippers looked both like a good matchup and also an easy win. But this Clippers team showed some spirit as the quarter ticked away.
Free throws continue to be a sore spot. Eric Gordon in particular has missed a grip of free throws this season and each one seems to be crucial when you consider the team's low margin of error. Gordon made up for missing both ends of a trip to the line with about 5 minutes to play in the 2nd quarter by driving hard and sticking short and mid-range shots, including an 8-foot jumper with .01 seconds left in the half that tied the game 57-57. Ooops -- the shot left his hands just a tad late and was not counted. Correction: The Hornets go to the locker room up by a pair, 57-55. Trust me though, it looked good at first glance.
Rookie forward Al-Farouq Aminu was on fire in the first half, shooting 6-7 en route to 16 points, a steal and a blocked shot.
The Clippers shot out of the intermission to take a three point lead! It didn't hold thanks turnovers by Griffin and Aminu, but it was a different look than what we are used to. Eric Gordon, entering the game 11 of his last 58 three-point attempts, hit a bomb with about 5 minutes to go to the Clippers back up by three. Aminu's third turnover with two minutes in the third (also his third offensive foul) helped to keep New Orleans from staying behind.
The Clippers did tighten the screws in the quarter as New Orleans were held to a measly 16 points. The defense prompted Clippers on-air announcer Brian Siemen to comment, "This is possibly the best three quarters we've seen from the Clippers this season." At the end of three quarters it was the Clippers up 77-73. Stealing the third quarter from one of the league's best teams was a feat.
Things seemed to get even better in opening minutes of the final frame when the Clippers jumped out to a 6 point lead. The Staples crowd seemed awake, the Clippers looked energized and finally had an opportunity to control the game. After more missed free throws, this time by Gomes, the team got a lift by none other than Brian Cook. He nailed a three and threw down a two handed dunk on a rebound, but took a foolish 30-foot brick with seven minutes to go that brought him to the bench. That's just not what you need with a three point lead. Down the stretch, the Clippers blew two layups but nothing was stinging as much as their 17 missed free throws for the game.
But, the Clippers finally turned it on, executing late in the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run during the final two minutes before allowing the Hornets back in, (they had a chance to tie when they turned the ball over with 7 seconds) but Eric Gordon capped his 27 point performance off with two free-throws, ironically enough, to ice it for the Clippers. A long-awaited, well-deserved 99-95 win.