Thursday, January 21, 2010
Baron takes over
By Kevin Arnovitz
All season long, teams have been more than happy to run underneath high screens for Baron Davis and let the Los Angeles Clippers' point guard shoot jumpers to his heart's content. Sometimes he obliges and other times he defers to teammates.
"Throughout the game, I had some open shots," Davis said. "But I was turning them down trying to get assists and trying to get guys open shots."
Wednesday night when the Chicago Bulls whittled down the Clippers' 14-point fourth-quarter lead, Davis accepted the challenge from the Bulls and took command of the offense. He scored 23 points, 11 of them in the fourth quarter, leading the Clippers to a 104-97 win over Chicago. With the victory, the 19-22 Clippers matched their win total from the entire 2008-09 season.
With the Bulls staging their comeback, Davis went to work in the closing minutes. He used high screens from Chris Kaman -- and the disproportionate attention the Bulls' defense was giving the Clippers' big man -- to launch shots from long range on consecutive possessions. The first, at the 3:51 mark, was a silky 3-pointer. He then followed with a 19-footer that gave the Clippers a seven-point lead with 3:10 remaining.
"I knew [the Bulls] were keying into Chris because we were throwing the ball into him a lot," Davis said. "I knew I had some freedom and I was in a good rhythm, offensively."
Knowing when to make the transition from distributor to scorer in a tight game can be tricky business for a point guard. Davis occasionally miscasts himself, as he did in the final seconds against Cleveland on Saturday, when he dribbled his way into a contested jumper. On Monday, Davis recognized those two possessions as the juncture in the game that called for his shot-making.
"It's all a feel," Davis said. "Tonight, I had a good feel and I was in a good rhythm, and it worked out."
Once Davis knocked down the pair of jumpers, the Bulls' defenders began to crowd him on the perimeter. Davis responded with veteran savvy. With the Clippers still clinging to a four-point lead, Davis got Chicago's Tyrus Thomas in the air behind the arc with a ball fake, then leaned into him to earn himself three free throws with 1:52 left. Davis' coup de grace came when he used yet another high screen from Kaman to breeze by Rose for a running five-footer, to give the Clippers a 101-95 lead with 48 seconds remaining.
The Clippers are now 9-1 when they use the starting lineup of Davis, Eric Gordon, Rasual Butler, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman.
The health of that lineup is in doubt after Gordon departed the game with a sprained left big toe at the 2:58 mark of the third quarter. Gordon's toe injury didn't occur on a specific play. Rather, the repetitive motion of pushing off the toe began to bother the second-year guard over the course of the game. His status for the Clippers' Thursday night contest in Denver is questionable.
Backup point guard Sebastian Telfair also had to leave the game prematurely when he strained his groin in the fourth quarter. He will not be with the team in Denver.
In addition to Davis' production, Chris Kaman added 20 points, while Al Thornton picked up the slack in Gordon's absence, adding 17 points off the bench.
The gaudiest stat of the night for the Clippers can't be found in the points column: Marcus Camby collected a season-high 25 rebounds -- more than half of the Clippers' overall total. The Clippers' power forward (officially listed as such, anyway) contested every loose ball coming off the rim.
Prolific scorers often speak about being "in the zone," but volume rebounders are rarely characterized that way. Wednesday night, Camby was feeling it on the glass -- but he also applied his smarts.
"Sometimes you feel like the ball is like a magnet," Camby said. "But with me, it's not about just going out there and getting it. I study my opponents a lot. I study the projectile of the basketball, try to get myself in a good position to rebound shots."
The Clippers now embark on their longest road trip of the season, an eight-game, 14-day odyssey that begins in Denver on Thursday night. Though they leave Los Angeles with consecutive wins, the prospect of being without Gordon for an extended stretch is troubling.
As that aforementioned 9-1 record indicates, the Clippers are a team that desperately needs all of its pieces to succeed.
Kevin Arnovitz is an NBA contributor to ESPN.com and ESPNLosAngeles.com and the author of ClipperBlog.