Commentary

Baron Davis a catalyst in victory

His effort sparks big men Griffin and Jordan to big games in win over Nuggets

Updated: January 6, 2011, 8:48 AM ET
By Pedro Moura | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- The spotlight shined on the two young Clippers big men Wednesday, but the old-hand, afterthought veteran might very well have been the reason for much of that.

It was Blake Griffin's day, to be sure, as the rookie forward was officially named a participant in next month's All-Star Weekend dunk contest and then posted a 22-point, 18-rebound line against the Denver Nuggets.

And DeAndre Jordan's day, too. The third-year center, playing heavy minutes during Chris Kaman's extended absence (ankle injury), tied a career high with 20 rebounds to go with 14 points. But guard Baron Davis -- and his connection with Jordan and Griffin -- was a big factor in the Clippers' 106-93 win over Denver at Staples Center.

[+] EnlargeBaron Davis
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireBaron Davis did not have a turnover in 31 minutes against Denver on Wednesday.

"He was really a leader out there," Jordan said. "He definitely was."

Yes, it sounds backward to call Davis, a 12-year NBA veteran and two-time All-Star, an afterthought -- but that's what he seemed to have become on the court, and Wednesday's game was a perfect example.

Davis was the "catalyst," as coach Vinny Del Negro said, for a lot of the good the Clippers experienced Wednesday.

The rim-rattling alley-oops by Griffin and Jordan?

Davis was the passer on most of them.

The strong, finishing fourth quarter?

A lot of Davis' doing. He was calling offensive and defensive sets down the stretch.

He also finished with 16 points, eight assists, two steals and no turnovers -- plus a game-sealing 3-pointer -- in one of his best games of the season (though he cut short a brief session with a group of reporters in the locker room afterward, passing on the chance to elaborate on his efforts).

Others did it for him.

"No turnovers was the key," Del Negro said afterward. "I liked his aggressiveness, I told him after the game. He's a huge catalyst for us when he can play like that with that aggression. It opens the court up for all the other guys."

Davis played 31 minutes without a turnover. The last time he had played 30 or more minutes without a turnover was Dec. 9, 2009, against Orlando.

He also seemed to be having fun. Even when Jordan failed to convert an alley-oop on a perfectly placed pass from Davis with 1:28 to play and was then fouled, the veteran smiled broadly at midcourt while waiting for Jordan's free throws.

Davis checked out of the game a half-minute or so later to applause from the Staples Center crowd. Was this game -- and this finish, especially -- a sign of the progress Davis has made with his teammates through 35 games this season?

It sounded that way in the locker room afterward.

"The more you play together, the more comfortable you are," Griffin said Wednesday of his relationship with Davis. "It's just like the more time you spend with somebody, the more comfortable you are with them. The more and more we play, the better and better our relationship will get.

"I'm looking forward to further developing that chemistry."

While Del Negro was quick to credit Jordan and Griffin for the win, the coach said this about Davis: "I just liked his aggressiveness tonight, especially at the end of the game, getting us into some sets and making sure the guys were in the right spots."

That aggressiveness didn't seem to be there a month ago in Colorado when the Clippers lost by five points to the Nuggets in a game LA led until late in the third quarter. Davis had half as many points and two turnovers in that one.

On Wednesday, Davis had a plus/minus of plus-21, third on the team behind Griffin and guard Eric Gordon, who scored a team-high 28 points.

It would make a lot of sense for that to be the story night in and night out. But it hasn't been yet this season. Davis has rarely put up efforts of 15 points or more -- only five times, in fact -- and his assists per game are at the third-lowest level of his career.

Griffin was asked if a one-two-three tandem of Gordon, Griffin and Davis is a good way for this team to move forward.

"I think it can work, but the great thing about having all those guys is teams have to worry about all of us," Griffin said. "Obviously, they have to worry about Baron. Obviously, they have to worry about Eric. And now they're worrying about Ryan [Gomes], worrying about [Jordan] catching lobs. It's tough for teams to guard.

"When we're at our best, we're all playing like we did tonight."

The Clippers (11-24) didn't fold Wednesday, as they had in their two most recent games against Utah and Atlanta. And a good portion of the difference between Wednesday's game and the previous two was the steady hand of the 31-year-old Davis.

"He's our leader," Jordan said. "We know he's going to come out and make big plays, big shots, big passes.

"And we really need that."

Final notes: Griffin tied a franchise record with his 22nd consecutive double-double Wednesday. ... Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups said after the game that Griffin and Jordan were two of the three best dunkers in the NBA. ... Said Denver coach George Karl: "Jordan did a great job. We showed them Jordan on film today, but this was the first time they saw him playing well."

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