Saturday, February 18, 2012
Six minutes of great basketball
By Pedro Moura
Five minutes and 10 seconds into the second half of Saturday's game between the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro made his best decision of the day -- which isn't necessarily saying much, because he made a couple 0f questionable ones too.
The move: He pulled Chris Paul in favor of Eric Bledsoe, notable for three reasons.
For one, Paul rarely exits a game so soon after the start of either half. For another, Mo Williams was available from the bench but passed over by Del Negro. And, for three, it was in favor of Bledsoe, a guy who had played only 19 minutes this season before the move, mostly because of injury but also because of ineffectiveness since his return on Jan. 30.
But Paul was struggling to keep up with Tony Parker defensively, and Del Negro felt Bledsoe could do it better than his starting point guard could.
He was right. Over the next six minutes and nine seconds -- Bledsoe's only time on the court all game -- the Clippers made a 17-3 run, limiting Parker and the Spurs' offense and turning their own on through the fast break.
He didn't score, missing his only shot attempt, but his two assists and three rebounds were accurate measures of his effectiveness this day.
"I thought Eric Bledsoe came in and got us back into it," Del Negro said afterward, adding that Paul channeled Bledsoe's aggressiveness when he came back into the game, keeping the court open.
The Clips were down 65-50 when Bledsoe entered and were down only 68-67 when he exited. His +14 plus-minus was the best of any Clipper on Saturday and the second-best of any player on the court after Parker's +15.
"That's just how I play," Bledsoe said Saturday when asked about the influence his insertion into the lineup had. "I come up with the loose balls, hustle plays. I get more hustle plays than a lot of people."
Bledsoe missed the first month of the season because of a torn meniscus suffered in the offseason, then had complications in his recovery once he made his return. Thus, before Saturday, Bledsoe had played only four meaningful minutes this season, in the first half of Wednesday's game against Washington. His stretch in that game wasn't nearly as effective -- -5 -- but he established his readiness for another appearance.
That ended up being Saturday.
"I figured I was gonna get the opportunity," Bledsoe said. "I just tried to make the best of it when I went in."
The 22-year-old Bledsoe said he went into the game with the goal of changing the tempo, of speeding it up some in the Clippers' favor and forcing San Antonio out of its rhythm.
By doing that, he thought, he'd swing the momentum back to his team and reverse the way the game was going.