I had the title of the article written down and ready to go.
"It's time for the Clippers to Dump Dunleavy!"
It wasn't an article I wanted to write or an opinion I was happy to share, but watching the team fall behind to the lowly Grizzlies made me angry. Watching the Memphis lead balloon to twenty in the 3rd quarter made me furious.
I was watching the Clippers play defense with the same passion and precision of the Secret Service protecting our President at a recent White House state dinner. The Secret Service inexplicably allowed two uninvited guests to hob-nob with the Prez and the Clippers watched haplessly as Grizz after Grizz flew by them for layups.
Defense is about desire. Sure, it helps if you have a seven foot wing span. A backside the size of New Jersey is nice too when you are boxing out but you can have the wing span of a pterodactyl and a big booty but they mean nothing if you don't have the desire needed to use those tools to your advantage.
Some of the NBA's best rebounders weren't all that tall by basketball standards. Moses Malone was listed at a generous 6'10". Charles Barkley admitted in his book, "I may be wrong, but I doubt it" that he is only 6'4". "The Round Mound of Rebound" had the booty but no height and yet was a voracious rebounder. Dennis Rodman had no booty and was only 6'8" (listed). What set each of these players apart was their desire to go after the ball.
The Clippers seemed more interested in "Iranian Heritage Day" than exhibiting any desire to stop the ball, rebound or even put a hand in someones face.
I, for one, had had enough. Losing is tough on players and fans but it is easier to accept if you see some desire behind the loss. I saw none and the blame for that rests solely on the shoulders of the coach.
Maybe he had reached the limit of his usefulness with this squad. Maybe he was at that difficult place as a coach where his voice is no longer heard by players who have heard it long enough. Maybe he had reached the point where his direction and input were received by his team the way an adult in a Charlie Brown cartoon communicated to the Peanuts Gang.
Bla blaaa, bla bla bla... waaah waaah waaaaaaah
It was time for the coach to go. New Jersey jettisoned Lawrence Frank and Dunleavy was next. My fingers were poised and ready to start pounding on the keyboard.
Then, something pretty amazing happened. The Clippers began to act like they cared.
Marcus Camby was the catalyst on the defensive end. Camby is a former Defensive Player of the Year and he showed why in this game. Passion is contagious, Camby seemed to infect everyone wearing a Clipper jersey. The Grizzlies were on their heels and the Clippers were on the attack.
"It may well have been the best five minutes of basketball any NBA team has ever played."
That was Ralph Lawlers take on a stretch during that fourth quarter comeback. Hyperbole, sure, but he sort of had a point. The Clippers missed one shot and held the Grizzlies to zilch. While Ponce de la Camby was dominating on the defensive side Eric Gordon controlled the offense and Staples was jumping!
The Clipper won 98-88. When the dust had settled the team not only was able to savor a great come from behind victory but some fairly significant accomplishments.
- The win gave the team an 8-6 record in November. Their first winning month since January 2007. A substantial amount of the month spent without Gordon and Blake.
- It was the teams fourth win in five games.
- It was the official period at the end of Iran-Gate with Lawler and Smith meeting Hamed Haddadi before the game.
- It was Dunleavys 600th win as an NBA coach.
Additionally, the win forced me to hit the backspace key on my keyboard and re-think my article. Dunleaveys seat is still warm but more performances like this will no doubt cool it down.
The most important thing about this game however is understanding what it represents. Is it the turning point to what has been a mediocre season? Is it the game we look back on as the Clippers take the court in the Western Conference Finals as the game that turned the season around?
Or is it an anomaly? A tease? A one-time display of passion and desire from a team that's burdened with a "curse"?
The answer will come December 14 when a five game home schedule ends. Houston, Indiana, Orlando, San Antonio and Washington await. As does the answer to the question "Have the Clippers turned the corner?".