PORTLAND - Admittedly, I was a little dubious about driving two and a half hours both ways to watch the Los Angeles Clippers even before hearing the final injury report for this afternoon’s game. Baron Davis played, but the Clippers were without Zach Randolph (NBA suspension), Chris Kaman (strained left arch), Marcus Camby (inner ear infection), Al Thornton (strained right arch) and Brian Skinner (sore right Achilles). Only the return of rookie Mike Taylor gave L.A. 10 players in uniform, and Taylor did little to help a front line anchored by 6-11 rookie DeAndre Jordan, 6-10 perimeter specialist Steve Novak and 6-6 Mardy Collins (a combo guard by trade).
While the Clippers avoided quitting after going down 22 in the first quarter, their depleted roster made it hard to take a ton from the game, won by the Blazers 116-87. Still, it allowed me to witness two things I have never before seen in an NBA game (followed by three other observations).
1. 14 assists by a player in a quarter.
Actually, the only people who had ever seen that were the lucky fans on hand at the HemisFair Arena on April 15, 1984, when John Lucas handed out an NBA-record 14 assists in the second quarter. Steve Blake matched him in the first period this afternoon, assisting on 14 of the 18 Portland buckets in the quarter. Blake got a bit of a gift from the official scorer to tie the record, getting his 14th assist on a feed to Rudy Fernandez where Fernandez paused behind the three-point line before dribbling twice en route to the basket for a bucket and the foul.
That aside, it was maybe the most impressive display of passing I’ve ever seen in person. Blake completed a pair of alley-oops from near halfcourt and even went over–not behind, over–his head to dish the ball off to Nicolas Batum for a three. The unselfishness started by Blake was contagious, and the Blazers used terrific ball movement to break down the Clippers’ D. Their 38 assists smashed their previous season high of 31.
2. Joel Przybilla as a go-to guy.
OK, it was only a possession or two early in the game, but Portland repeatedly threw the ball to Przybilla in the post. This is unusual for a player who has topped out at 6.4 points per game in his career. It happens when said player is being defended by Novak, giving up 25 pounds (officially; I’d put the difference closer to 50), and Collins, six inches shorter.
3. I get the hype on Eric Gordon.
The best reason to come watch the Clippers was their highly-touted rookie, currently fourth amongst first-year players in scoring at 15.0 points per game. Before the game, his head coach Mike Dunleavy raved about Gordon, calling him one of the best defensive rookies he’s ever seen. Gordon did a credible job matching up with Brandon Roy. I was more impressed by his quickness, which was better than I anticipated. On one play, the ball was knocked into the backcourt and Gordon recovered with five on the shot clock. That was still enough time for Gordon to get all the way into the paint for an attempt at the rim.
I also liked Gordon’s fearlessness taking the ball to the rack, which matched his impressive free-throw rate. He showed the ability to go off the dribble in either direction and used his body well to finish, which explains why he’s shooting 56.6 percent in shots inside of five feet according to NBA.com’s Hot Spots, much better than similar rookies O.J. Mayo (48.8 percent) and Russell Westbrook (46.7 percent) and just ahead of Chicago’s Derrick Rose (55.7 percent).
4. DeAndre Jordan is getting valuable minutes. When I asked Dunleavy about the Clippers’ second-round pick, he pointed out that Jordan was expected to have something of a redshirt season. Those plans were scrapped when first Kaman and then Camby were lost for extended periods. Dunleavy has had no choice but to play Jordan, and the rookie has responded pretty well. On a per-minute basis, I have him rated as nearly average, on the strength of 66.2 percent shooting from the field. Jordan competed well during a lengthy stint as the only center available, though the rookie mistakes Dunleavy referenced before the game were also in evidence, highlighted by a silly goaltend of a shot that was obviously coming down.
5. Baron Davis’ body language–not so hot. I suppose this one doesn’t really come as a surprise to anyone who has watched the Clippers for an extended period this season. Still, it’s impressive in person. After a failed runout on a Blake three-pointer, Davis stopped to pout, apparently in disbelief of his terrible fate. (I also theorized he was upset it was Blake’s first score of the game; I was looking up the most assists in a scoreless game before Blake finally got on the board.) At the end of the half, Davis and Roy bumped ever so slightly on their way to their respective locker rooms, leading to a little jawing. That might have fired Davis up, as he looked a little more engaged in the third quarter. By that point, it was far too little and far too late.