Cliff Clinkscales continued to avoid turnovers last night, but the biggest factor in his doing so may have been his own tentativeness.
After Monday morning’s love-fest for the Erie BayHawks’ point guard’s recent three-game stretch in which he totaled 35 assists and four turnovers, I tuned in to Tuesday’s Bakersfield-Erie contest to see if and how Clinkscales would continue his run of statistical success.
What I found was a stark contrast in the aggressiveness levels of Erie’s two point guards that left no doubt that the one who gave the ball away four times played the better game.
Some technical difficulties on my end cost me most of the first quarter, but here’s what astounded me the rest of the way: Over the last three quarters, Clinkscales handled the ball below the foul line once. That came on the BayHawks’ last possession of the half, on which he drove right and passed up an attempt at a scoop lay-up to kick the ball back out to Martin Zeno for a left-wing three that missed everything with the shot clock dying.
Let that figure sink in. During the nearly 15 minutes he played over the final three quarters, the man who is his team’s primary ball-handler when he is on the floor brought the ball deep into the paint just one time. One. Uno. Echad.
Through the rest of the sets he led, Clinkscales seemed content to dribble laterally outside the arc or occasionally meander to the foul line before circling back out to the top and making a pass to one of the two wings. He rarely did so much as dump the ball into the post, opting instead to swing the ball around the perimeter until the BayHawks’ got a semi-open look. Most of Erie’s points in the paint with him on the floor came courtesy of offensive rebounds and fast breaks off turnovers by a bad Bakersfield team. As we clarified Monday, Clinkscales isn’t an outside shooter, so he added no scoring on a night when he didn’t penetrate, finishing 0-for-2 from the field with no free throw attempts to go with his four assists and no turnovers (the last figure being an easier one to attain when one avoids driving or passing into a possibly trafficked lane).
On the flip side, back-up Cedric Jackson provided the offensive spark in Erie’s first home victory of the season. He attacked the paint all night, looking to go all the way when he could, pulling up for a floater and a couple of other jumpers and making several kickout passes as well. Rudimentary basketball logic says passes to the wings and corners are more effective when delivered by someone driving through the lane because that forces defenders to choose between holding their ground on the outside or stepping in to stop penetration and giving their men space while they help and recover.
What had been a 19-point lead at one point was trimmed to 75-67 early in the 4th. That’s when Jackson turned out the lights. He made a driving/floating layup to push the lead back to 10. Following another Bakersfield basket, Jackson found Jackie Manuel for an assist, again pushing the lead to 10. Then, following a Jarvis Gunter block, Jackson found Manuel again, this time on an alley-oop. Finally, Jackson got a steal and finished on the other end with a layup that made it 83-69 Erie. That sequence was when this game was put on ice, and most of the credit goes to Cedric Jackson as the catalyst. Credit him for stepping up in a big way in the wake of Clinkscales’ recent success.
The last two plays of this sequence merit extra emphasis. At 79-69, Jackson pushed the ball hard to the middle of the lane, waited for a defender to meet him two steps below the foul line and then calmly flipped the ball to the perfect spot for a rising Manuel to slam it through the cylinder. When no defender managed to slide in front of him the next time down, Jackson sprinted all the way to the rim for the righty finish. That type of aggressiveness epitomized Jackson’s 17-6-10 performance, which featured 6-for-9 shooting from the field and a 4-for-6 effort at the line.
While Cliff Clinkscales played with caution to a fault, Cedric Jackson truly ran the offense in Erie’s 91-78 Tuesday night victory. That’s why the back-up came just 12 seconds shy of an even split of minutes at the point, and that’s why he was the one who stood out even while turning the ball over as many times in one night as the starter has in his last four games combined.
While I obsessed over the floor generals in Erie, the Mad Ants and Energy played a crazy-good game in Des Moines. Three overtimes, 13 players in double-figure scoring, 27 made three-pointers and some unbelievably overflowing box score lines from the starting point guards: Oliver Lafayette went for 30 points, 8 boards and 14 assists in a losing effort while counterpart Curtis Stinson played 62 minutes and put up a 14-11-21 near-quadruple-double (well, thanks to his seven turnovers) in the Energy’s 140-137 win. Wish I had something better to say than “It would have been really awesome if I hadn’t missed this game.”
Programming alert: For those wanting to see more D-League action but needing a break from squinting at a computer screen, NBA TV will be re-showing the Dec. 19 Fort Wayne-Maine game today at 4:30 p.m. ET as well as the Reno-Rio Grande Valley contest from Dec. 21 on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET.