On a warm evening, shown on my calendar to be October 6th, I welcomed live basketball back to my life. The venue was Mandalay Bay (Vegas, Baby, Vegas) and the opponents were the Los Angeles Clippers & the Denver Nuggets. There were the old heads that I’ve come to get to know and there were a few new faces for both squads. Some of them may or may not be there in a few weeks at the opener but they certainly did put on a show.
The first play to kick things off was a slam dunk by DeAndre Jordan. He went on to have another slam dunk THAT quarter and one more for good luck in the 3rd along with 3 blocks that quarter. Often they switched out him and Blake-A-Saurus Griffin, which I thought wasn’t such a hot idea considering their ability to terrify the competition when they are both on the court together….but then again, this is only pre-season. I consider it to be a glorified version of summer league, where they test out new plays, new players, new rotations and new rotator cuffs after injuries have taken the summer to heal.
Some injured have not yet danced their way onto the floor though. Chauncey Billups is still riding the bench along with Trey Thompkins who, after a seemingly MINOR incident that occurred during Vegas league last September, is still on the injured reserves. Although Chauncey and his pal Chris Paul have been cleared to practice, they didn’t participate in the game. The higher ups have declared them “ready for the opener” but we will soon see if that is true or not.
The first quarter saw some action from Blake Griffin and his fabulous alley-oops that we’ve grown to love. Unfortunately, they also came with side order of 2 turnovers, and I don‘t mean the pastry kind. He redeemed himself with a monster block but was fairly quietly the rest of the game doing his usual routine of “rebound, pass, rebound, get fouled, miss a free throw, make a free throw” until the 3rd quarter where he had a monster dunk showcased in pictures below. He ended the night with 40% FG shooting & 2-6 on FT’s. Nothing to write home about considering past performances.
For the Clippers, the night seemed to belong to Matt Barnes & Eric Bledsoe, but for different reasons. In the 2nd quarter, Barnes had FOUR TURNOVERS (and a steal, so there was so SOME redemption). However, looking at his box score for the night, he landed the 3rd highest in pts with 15, but FIVE turnovers total; the highest of anyone on the team. He was 4-9 with FG’s, shot 50% in 3 point land, made 100% of his FT’s, and had 7 rebounds and 4 steals. All is not lost, I suppose.
Little Eric Bledsoe on the other hand, just silently tore it up. I didn’t really realize how much damage he was doing until the 4th quarter when I started reading the play-by-plays that were being handed out. In the 1st quarter he had 2 steals (but 2 turnovers). In the 2nd he had 3 steals, 1 turnover and a slam dunk. In the 3rd he went 10-14 in FG’s w/21 pts, got 100% on his FT’s, polished off 7 rebounds and had 5 assists and 5 steals. In the 4th he went COMPLETELY COLD and I believe that was one of the main reasons for their loss. He is only in his 3rd year in the league and although he has been a gem for the red, white and blue Clippers, he can sometimes be inconsistent. I’m anxious to see how he develops this season with a few more seasoned veterans around to possibly bring him along a little more.
The game was mostly neck and neck the whole way. The 1st quarter, everyone got their sea legs, as usual. The 2nd quarter saw a push from the Nuggets as they pulled away in FG % and 3 pointers yet nobody on the Denver squad did anything that lit the place on fire. Kenneth Faried, who is usually a stand-out, was relatively mute other than a fantastic assist he gave JaVale McGee for a slam dunk in the 1st and then later one of his own. At halftime, I was crying “WTF” at the Clippers dismal 14.3% (to DEN’s 45.5%) in the 3 point shoot-out but we all know that was never their strong suit so I wasn’t TERRIBLY surprised once I got some perspective.
Free throws sucked in both directions, as the game ended with 70% being made on the LAC side and 61.5% on the DEN side yet Denver managed to pull out the win.
The win, however, is still a mystery to many. Even being there front and center, many of us media folks looked at each other with a “Did that just happen? Seriously? Why did they just let him run thru the lane like that unopposed?” look on our faces. No words needed to be spoken because we all knew the answer but I raced home to see the replay.
As you will see below, with the clock at 1.9 after a time out to advance the ball, the Nuggets land the rock into the hands of Ty Lawson, the tiny tot little 5’11 Speedy Gonzales guard from University of North Carolina. He cuts into the lane at about the free throw line and goes full strength thru the lane with almost no opposition. One person sorta goes “Boo” but still lets him go through. I don’t know if they thought time was going to run out or if they didn’t have any faith that he would/could make it. Possibly a combination of both! As my fiance said on replay, “They left the door wide open and nobody was home so Denver just STOLE THEIR PORRIDGE!“. Yeah, that about covers it.
Whatever the case, the ball left his hands ON TIME. Swish went the net, “EHHHH” went the buzzer and there went the game (for the Clippers). Game. Blouses. Final Score: 106-104. Final look on everyone’s face?