Saturday, November 26, 2011

These Are The Moments... The Los Angeles Clippers

I hate that some people act as though the Clippers didn’t exist prior to Halloween 2010.

I mean, come on! There was the Clippers before there was Blake Griffin.

I should know. While I am a Laker fan, I am also an L.A.-raised NBA junkie. Since the mid-80s, if the Clippers were on (and the Lakers were not), I was watching.

I remember Michael Cage, Loy Vaught, Danny Manning, Mark Jackson and Ron Harper, but also remember Ken Norman, Quintin Dailey, Tom Garrick, Joe Wolf and Terry Dehere. I remember the Clips’ early 90s ascent past the post-Magic Lakers, their return to the NBA basement and the turn-of-the-century accumulation of young talent (still have a bootleg L.O.-Elton-D. Miles-Q-Richt-shirt from Figueroa).

I moved East almost seven years ago, at which point Clipper games (and, with Chick Hearn now gone, Ralph Lawler’s calls) took on added significance. I was watching, lump in my throat, when Shaun Livingston suffered the most devastating injury I’ve ever seen. I won a tidy sum riding the Clippers in Sam Cassell’s early weeks with the team. I loved the 2006 run to within a game of the Western Conference Finals.

So, yeah, when some jackass boils down the entirety of Clipper history to one magical season of the Blake Show, it gets on my nerves.

(Seriously, NO idea what came over me with that embarrassing, mailed-in question. Thanks to Charlie Widdoes, Tim Severson and Greg Wissinger for dishing out a collective wake-up call. And while I'm thanking the academy, a shout out to @KJ_NBA for the picture above)

 Ok, now that that's taken care of, let's do this, shall we?

Awesome team effort on an incredible alley-oop

What if I told you the greatest highlight in Clipper history came before Blake Griffin had even celebrated his twelfth birthday? (Read this in the voice of ESPN’s “30 for 30” guy- really adds to the effect)

What if I told you that Sean Rooks threw this gorgeous three-quarter-court baseball pass? What if, on the receiving end was a pre-Miami, pre-Kardashian Lamar Odom? And what if, while facing the opposite end of the court, Odom flipped a perfect lob over his shoulder to a still-brimming-with-potential Darius Miles for a pandemonium-inspiring dunk? Would you believe that while this happened, the ball never came close to touching the floor?

This is… one of the coolest plays in NBA history.

* I was unable to find a clip combining sound and video quality. I opted to use the latter here, but to hear Ralph Lawler lose his shit as only Ralph Lawler can, click here.

Blake Griffin destroys Danilo Gallinari

What was the plan here? And at what point do you think Gallo realizes he’s utterly fucked?

For a short-lived moment, as they’re running alongside one another, it looks as though he might actually be able to obstruct Blake’s path to the cup, or at the very least, foul him. However, it very quickly becomes evident that Gallinari, who, at 6’10”- 225 is a substantial piece of humanity, is little more than a scrap of debris caught in a thundering tornado. Forget stopping him, I defy you to point out a semi-decent opportunity for Gallo to take a foul.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating- I watched this game with a friend at the sports book at the MGM Grand. I enjoy the occasional (frequent) sports wager and am no stranger to Vegas, and never before have I seen a moment in which virtually no one had a financial stake cause a sports book to explode the way that this did.

Blake Griffin's incredible 360 layup in Detroit

The least heralded of Blake Griffin’s most spectacular plays.

Other than Gallo, Timofey Mozgov, Marcin Gortat (offensive foul or not, you think the Polish Hammer was feeling good after this?), a bunch of dudes in Jersey and Toronto and the adorably discriminatory “Kick a Ginger” campaign, this might be the biggest victim of Blake’s ridiculous catalogue of obscene dunks.

The list of players in NBA history capable of replicating this play is not terribly long. Those capable of doing so with such incredible power, fluidity and body control belong to an even more exclusive group. Now, of this crew, how many are 6’9”-250?

Eric Bledsoe to Blake Griffin on the break for a gorgeous reverse oop

By some margin, a two-handed reverse oop off of a dead run with a little double pump thrown in is the most spectacular moment of most NBA careers. At the very least it’s the headline play for most individual seasons. What does it say about Blake Griffin’s body of work that I felt the need to justify its inclusion?

As spectacular a play as this is in a vacuum, the backdrop against which this game took place and the flow of the game itself made it truly special. Days after a devastating 47-point, 14-rebound MLK Day performance, with 20-15 or better eight times in his last 20 games and news of his participation in the slam dunk contest still fresh, the basketball world was bonkers for Blake. Combine this with a frenzied Clipper home crowd (LOVE that this is now a thing), a wide-open game that was both competitive and a treat to watch, a lob from Eric Bledsoe that sufficiently kicked up the degree of difficulty and Blake at his dominant best (he finished with 30, on 10-16 FG, with 18 rebounds and eight assists) and you’ve got a moment that delivers so much of what we're all looking for- great expectations, realized.

Is this really happening??

For all the thrills and optimism inspired by the Blake Griffin-Eric Gordon pairing, this remains the most euphoric moment in Clipper history.

That the Clippers were capable of knocking off the Nuggets was hardly a shock. This was a well-assembled, 47-win squad, with home court in the series (Denver had just 44 wins, but had won the Northwest Division, thus the #3 seed), a legitimate MVP candidate, two outstanding point guards and outstanding wing play. But to see the Clippers, the Clippers- ignorant though this may be, with the Clippers, it needed to be seen to be believed- not only advance, but do so in five games and close out the series with a blowout is the ultimate in “holy shit!”

Not sure any one element of this sequence is historically spectacular (though the dish by Shaun Livingston is pretty damn sweet), but this, the knockout punch, collectively, is electric.

Well, there you have it. As always, I want to hear from you. Let me know what you think of my choices, and chime in with your own. I love your feedback.

Enjoy your weekend!

No comments: