This was a weird game. It’s a well-worn cliché that basketball is a game of runs — that when one team falls behind by double digits suddenly, it’s just a matter of time before the other team scores a bunch of unanswered point. But this game pushed that to extremes. The Clippers opened up the game with a 12-0 run, which was probably the easiest one to see, but look at the game flow from ESPN’s box score.
The whole first half was just runs back and forth. Here I’ve highlighted Clippers’ runs in yellow and Wolves’ runs in light green (just because the colors used for each team were red and blue) and you can see that aside from about a minute and a half in the first quarter where the score went from 12-0 to 16-4, the game was seesawing back and forth precipitously. Yet at the end of the first, the score was 24-24 and at the end of the half it was 46-46.
Thus it was really a toss-up going into the third quarter, with neither team genuinely establishing anything sustainable in the first half. You can see from the game flow that the Clippers slowly established a beachhead from the mid-third through the mid-fourth quarters and then fought off a stiff challenge (well, Chris Paul fought off a stiff challenge specifically from Kevin Martin — Paul went 6-7 in the fourth for 16 points while Martin went 6-8 for 15) to hang onto that lead.
But let’s zero in very tightly on the moment the Clippers nudged ahead in the third. With 8:08 to go in the quarter, the Wolves inbound the ball and Rubio ends up pump faking at the top of the arc and driving into a super-strange runner that Blake Griffin rebounds. He gets it out ahead to J.J. Redick, who tries to drop it off to DeAndre Jordan. But Jordan bobbles it and Rubio gets it back. He gets it to Corey Brewer on the break, but Brewer throws it away back to Redick, whom Kevin Martin fouls to stop from heading the other way. Who knows: this dodgeball-esque back and forth of bad passes could have kept going forever.
The next shot that dropped after this sequence was a Jared Dudley two-pointer and the Clippers never trailed again. Nor did the Wolves ever even tie it again, although they got as close as 86-85 with 4 minutes to go in the fourth.
But here’s the really weird thing: Just after Redick broke the seal on the baskets to make it 2-0 with a minute and a half gone in the first quarter, almost the same kind of ping-ponging steal-steal-steal thing happened prior to spark a 10-0 run by the Clippers.
Redick’s 3-pointer made it 5-0 and the Clippers would ultimately push it to 12-0 before the Wolves started pushing back.
In both cases, the Clippers ended up with the ball when the scramble was over. I’m not sure that fact alone says something about either Los Angeles or Minnesota, but I suspect it might point in some ways to each team’s ability to weather chaos and steady the ship. In the first quarter, the Clippers jumped on the chance to make a run. In the third, the moment came right as Rubio made a really poor decision with the ball and when the dust cleared the Clippers seemed to settle into control while the Wolves looked shaken.
A note about Adelman’s rotations because yes, this is going to keep being a thing: It seems like Adelman is executing a kind of push-pull strategy with the bench that stretches across games. He’d like to be able to hand over the reins completely to the second unit in the second quarter, which is what he did last night. In other games, he shortens the rotation up and only uses J.J. Barea, Dante Cunningham and Robbie Hummel. My sense is that he’s trying to ease the full bench into being comfortable because he can see that when Barea is out there with no other starters he goes into panic mode, feeling like there are no other offensive options in that lineup when Alexey Shved isn’t playing well (which is a lot of the time) and when Cunningham is off (as he has been for a good chunk of the season so far).
Some nights, he’s going to put in Barea and Cunningham with the starters and let them get comfortable before trying out the deeper bench. Some nights he’ll start bringing Martin back instead of going to that deeper bench. I’m sure Adelman would say it’s all about matchups — because that’s almost always what he says whenever you ask him any lineup questions — but I feel like there’s also this rhythm he’s trying to establish with the primary bench guys in the hopes that it will help the secondary bench guys.
After all, each position on the floor is going to use up at least 3,936 minutes in a season, and the starter can’t play them all. Even Luol Deng in 2010-11 — who played all 82 for the notoriously starter-happy Thibodeau — played 3,208 minutes, leaving some 700+ minutes for someone else at the small forward position. In fact, a player has only done better than 3800 minutes in a season three times and all three times it was Wilt Chamberlain (in ‘62, ‘68 and ‘63). And no player has topped 3500 minutes in a whole season since 1994 when your friend and mine Latrell Sprewell did it for the Golden State Warriors.
Last night’s loss and Monday’s against the Wizards were both bad, but they were also against two of the most transition-heavy offenses in the league and the Wolves are just not very good at transition defense. I wouldn’t expect the Brooklyn Nets to run nearly as much tomorrow night.