Clippers shore things up against Jersey
Visions of a sleepy, rainy Monday afternoon included the Clippers’ breaking down and continuing to crush a lousy opponent, center Chris Kaman scoring almost at will and shooting guard Eric Gordon transforming into a skilled distributor.
Well . . . yes.
The Clippers, going against type, avoided playing down to the subterranean level of the New Jersey Nets, winning, 106-95, at Staples Center. They scored 39 points in the opening quarter and more or less kept the pressure on, largely limiting their usual lapses.
They did it behind Kaman’s 22 points and seven rebounds, Gordon’s 16 points and seven assists, physical forward Craig Smith’s 18 points off the bench and veteran Marcus Camby’s impressive double-double (17 points, 14 rebounds).
The Clippers, who had a season-high 32 assists, grabbed their first victory in five games, and not coincidentally, those four straight losses came with Kaman out of the lineup because of a sore lower back. Kaman was 10 for 16 from the field in 30-plus minutes Monday.
“This is a totally different team with Chris Kaman in the game,” Nets Coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. “They are very aggressive at hurting you in the paint and we did not meet their force with force.”
Granted, the Nets rarely generate much force, not with three wins in 40 games. But the Clippers (18-22) have usually saved their best for the likes of Boston, Denver and Cleveland rather than the minnows of the NBA.
“That’s been probably our whole problem the whole season,” Gordon said. “Whenever we play good teams, the majority . . . we beat them. If we play [struggling] teams, we tend to play at their level. Then it’ll be a close game and we might lose at the end of the game.”
This time, there was no need for a desperation, game-winning three from Steve Novak at the end, like last season against the Nets. The difference was that Novak got in a lot earlier than the final seconds, playing the last 3:58, at the urging of Novak’s fan base.
“I just had to shut ‘em up,” Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy said, joking. “I was waiting to get down to the four-minute mark and make our moves. From the fans’ perspective, they were looking for it too.”
That happened mainly because of the effectiveness of the Clippers’ big men, Kaman and Camby, in building a lead.
Kaman said his tight back held up reasonably well, that it hurt only a couple of times when he took hits. He decided to play only about an hour and a half before game time.
“I hate sitting out,” he said. “It frustrates me. But I had to do what’s best for myself and make sure I was healthy first. I was kind of questioning whether to play today or not and I’m glad I did. Glad I took a little chance.”
Kaman was asked whether his back was more of an issue on defense or offense.
“I think defensively, in my opinion,” Kaman said. “You can’t control where that guy is going to go. I can control where I’m going to go on offense.”
An underlying story line for the Clippers was ball distribution. Baron Davis and backup point guard Sebastian Telfair each had nine assists. The Clippers’ previous high for assists this season was 30 at Minnesota on Dec. 16.
The surprise distributor was the shooting guard, Gordon, whose seven assists were a career high.
While Gordon was being asked about becoming Mr. Assist, Camby, dressing nearby, chimed in his own comment about Gordon’s previous high for assists.
“Three,” Camby said. “That was the running joke today.”
Rasual Butler jumped in, saying: “He gave me a nice one in transition.”
Said Gordon: “Just trying to be more of a playmaker, that’s all. Make the right decisions.”
He spoke about the different skill sets between the guard positions.
“You have to be able to adapt to play-making whether it’s shooting the ball and passing, just creating for your teammates,” Gordon said.
Forward Al Thornton (sprained left ankle) missed his second consecutive game. Smith hurt his left wrist Saturday against Cleveland and needed an X-ray in the third quarter of that game. It was just a sprain and he returned for the fourth period.
“I was concerned a little bit because I had surgery on it,” Smith said. “But it wasn’t as bad as when I hurt it last time. So I knew it wasn’t going to be that bad.”