Over the past two seasons, starting with Golden State’s stretch run in 2007-08 and continuing today, Baron Davis has wasted his considerable basketball talents.
Selfishness, passiveness, and a profound languor have palled over him, resulting in the listless play that led to a second-half benching with just a couple of games left in the 2008 regular season (with the Warriors still alive for a playoff spot) and the dismal performances he’s turned in since joining the Clippers two off-seasons ago.
In the Los Angeles Clippers’ 102-91 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, Baron Davis burned away the mist that’s been shrouding him and showed just how great he could be when he decides to be great.
Davis lived in the paint against Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, and Shannon Brown, collapsing the Lakers defense before dropping passes off to bigs near the basket or kicking the ball out to open shooters depending on the Lakers rotations.
Davis’ vision allowed him to see everything unfolding — 10 assists, 4 turnovers.
Plus, of his four turnovers, one came when he posted up and didn’t anticipate a double team stripping the ball, and a second came on a bad pass during garbage time. Only twice did he make inappropriate passes.
When Davis drove to score: 10-18 FG, 1-3 3FG, 4-5 FT, 25 PTS — he usually got to the cup or unleashed a tricky step-back jump shot going left. Otherwise, his mid- and long-range pull-up games were on target and he simply shot over the shorter Laker point guards.
Davis also made great push passes in transition to teammates beating the Lakers down the floor. In fact, it was the Clippers' ability to get out on the break which gave them the extra points they needed to persevere.
Most impressively of all was Davis’ pitbull defense. While he wasn’t challenged much by Fisher, he made Shannon Brown look like a D-Leaguer. On one possession he stayed in front of Brown’s attempts to drive for ten seconds, poked the ball away, and then swatted Brown’s emergency three-point attempt. On another possession, he simply rode Brown to the baseline where Brown was forced to step out of bounds.
It’s no surprise that with Davis playing like a star, the Clippers earned a gold-star caliber victory.
He got plenty of help. Rasual Butler is a streak-shooter who hasn’t found too many hot streaks this year — 2-6 3FG. But because he always ran the floor hard, he found several transition dunks and assists out ahead of the Lakers defense — 5-12 FG, 3 AST, 0 TO, 14 PTS.
And while his shot wasn’t falling, he dropped a critical late three-pointer that put the Lakers to bed.
If Eric Gordon was a couple inches taller, he’d be a star. He’s fearless in finishing around and through defenders at the basket, is a terrific broken-court scorer, and can handle the ball and shoot — 7-12 FG, 1-4 3FG, 3-4 FT, 18 PTS.
Defensively, he worked hard in denying Kobe Bryant easy post position and was proactive rather than reactive. On the other hand, he turned his head several times, and was too aggressive defending Kobe on the perimeter, leading to several bad fouls on jump shots.
He was also shot over at will and allowed a third-quarter hot streak that almost single-handedly kept the Lakers in the game. Indeed, the Clippers had their best success defending Bryant with Butler.
Still, Give Gordon another year to learn the difference between aggression and over aggression and he’ll be a terrific two-way player.
Chris Kaman — 7-19 FG, 7-7 FT, 14 REB, 21 PTS — was generally ineffective around the basket and had trouble navigating Andrew Bynum’s length and quickness. And while he has a soft touch, he was short on most of his jumpers outside of 16 feet. What Kaman has developed is an excellent turnaround jumper over his left shoulder that is near automatic.
Defensively, Kaman made a handful of good rotations but was late on the majority, plus he was beat too often on the glass by Bynum and Lamar Odom.
Marcus Camby took three shots outside of the basket, in other words, three bad shots. He missed all of them. He also chased the ball too often on defense failing to box out, another reason why the Lakers had some success crashing their offensive glass.
His best attribute was his passing. A high-low connection, and a zipped interior pass led to two Kaman layups, and two of his five assists.
Craig Smith was a bulldozer — 6-7 FG, 6 REB, 3 AST, 1 TO, 12 PTS. He carved space for himself on the glass, was able to take his right hand to the paint and finish or kick, and showed a nice counter move, spinning to the baseline to hit a layup.
Smith is the first smart, hard-working energy guy the Clippers have had on their bench in a long while, and he paid dividends against the Lakers.
However, the rest of the Clippers bench is seriously inept.
Sebastian Telfair — 0-6 FG, 3 AST, 1 TO, 0 PTS — never got into the paint, was a bricklayer from the perimeter, didn’t push the ball, couldn’t run the offense, and didn’t have a prayer of slowing down Farmar and Brown. Is there a worse backup point guard in the league than Telfair?
Ricky Davis executed a nice pick-and-roll with Smith (the first play he’s ever executed?) for an assist, forced two shots, and played no defense — 1-3 FG, 1 AST, 4 PTS.
Al Thornton short-armed two jumpers, bought pump fakes, and didn't play with any discipline. He’s an athletic mistake player, but a mistake player, nonetheless.
DeAndre Jordan moves fluidly, was usually in the right place at the right time, and has promise as a fifth big in a four-big rotation.
Indeed, the Clippers' fast and furious game plan was too much for the Lakers who were playing their second game in as many nights. Also, the Clippers did an effective job walling off the paint, particularly when their starters were in.
In fact, as a unit, the Clippers showed that their starting five can compete with any team in the league when Davis is playing like a baron and not a proletariat.
What do they need to seriously contend for postseason games?
- The return of Blake Griffin
- An NBA-caliber backup point guard
- An athletic, shooting wing who can move Butler to the bench
- An overhaul of the current bench
- More experience for Gordon
However, given Davis’ history of disappearing for long stretches, count on the Clippers falling short of whatever goals may otherwise be attainable.