“Foaming at the mouth” hatred of Eric Gordon forged his reassuring court presence

Looking for stability in a season with little of it, the Clippers have turned to a player who wasn’t on the roster until a month ago.

“I think he gives us peace of mind when he’s on the ground,” said coach Tyronn Lue.

Amid a rotation in which game time is constantly evaluated, it has taken the Clippers little time to embrace the new face as part of the lineups that most often end tight games.

“It comes down to trust, we trust him with the ball,” said All-Star Paul George. “He’ll make the right plays.”

That player is Eric Gordon, the 34-year-old 6-foot-3 reserve guard whose 89 minutes in the fourth quarter since his Clippers season debut on Feb. 14 is the team’s second-highest total in that span, surpassed only by George’s 104 The Clippers outscored their opponents by 47 points in those Gordon minutes, a plus/minus that is not only a team high but also the sixth-best fourth-quarter plus/minus in the NBA since 14.02.

After 14 points in Wednesday’s third quarter against Golden State, Gordon played the final six minutes of the fourth quarter to end the Clippers’ crucial fourth straight win.

“I’ve always been this sticky guy who has a comforting feel to a team where I can go into a game and change the game and just change different facets and know how to fit in,” Gordon told the Los Angeles Times. “Every team I’ve been on, good team, bad team, I’ve always found ways to fit in.”

The Clippers traded for Gordon, believing he could bring that sense of security to their lineups. It’s a role he’s extraordinarily comfortable in, considering the stakes — even amid the Clippers’ championship aspirations — don’t matter that much once you’ve played through the basketball season, surrounded by safety, in fact.

Before turning an NBA pro for 15 years, Gordon was one of America’s finest recruits, a guard built like a security man who could force the ball in the basket. His verbal commitment to Illinois caused chaos. So did his decision to step down from his non-binding commitment and switch allegiances to conference rival Indiana after the Hoosiers hired coach Kelvin Sampson.

Eric Gordon, still in high school, is greeted by fans before an Indiana Hoosiers practice session in October 2006.

(Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

After the move, Gordon was overwhelmed by fan backlash and spent his senior year of high school in Indianapolis, accompanied by a personal security guard. When he arrived in Indiana, his security detail was expanded to two people, Gordon recalled Wednesday, saying Illinois fans sometimes tried to get close to him as he walked the Bloomington campus.

All of this was noise that reached a crescendo during Indiana’s away game in Illinois on February 7, 2008.

The announcement of Gordon’s name before the game was almost drowned out by boos from an Illini crowd, later described by Indianas student newspaper as “seething with hatred of Gordon”. As Gordon jogged to the midcourt for a traditional meeting of the appetizers, Illinois guard Chester Frazier punched Gordon in the chest hard enough to knock the Hoosier guard several steps backward. Gordon heard shouts of “liar” and scored just one point in the first half. He would finish at 19 in an Indiana double overtime win — one saved when Gordon’s three-pointers tied for a rule with 25 seconds remaining.

Also late in the game, ESPN reported at the time, beads were thrown at a portion of the fans, which included Gordon’s parents. Gordon recalled on Wednesday that four security guards had been hired to protect his parents for that game.

The experience changed what he saw as pressure. While he’s asked to defend and complement Clippers stars George and Kawhi Leonard while a title boost goes a long way, it’s also not quite the same as living through a game he’s taken personally.

“In the NBA you have to constantly fight your way through adversity, team to team, no matter what the situation on the court, it’s all about figuring it out and overcoming adversity,” Gordon told the Times. “And I learned a lot of that in high school and college.

β€œIn college, nothing really went to our liking. We had a great team, they always wanted to fire the coach, they fired him and our season ended badly – and then the Illinois stuff. It was just good to have this experience.”

The Clippers are reaping the benefits in Gordon’s second stint with the team.

Given his long-range credentials, Gordon’s shooting threat would be the primary reason for holding him late, but he’s shot just 32% in the fourth as a clipper, including just four for 18 on three-point attempts. But Gordon has been reliable in limiting his errors – 15 assists against just two turnovers – and finding ways to improve the larger group, including defensively. When Gordon is on court in the fourth quarter, opponents have only made 40.9% of their shots, the second-best mark on the list. When he’s out, opponent have shot 55%. This 14 percentage point gap is the biggest on-off swing in the team.

To open Wednesday’s second half against the Warriors, Lue pinned Gordon into the starting lineup created by the ejection from Marcus Morris Sr., and Gordon responded with four threes from averaging 26 feet in the third quarter — something The Clippers crave keen to pull his defender that much further from the basket and not help defensive stars George and Leonard either. Gordon returned in the fourth quarter with the Clippers leading by seven points and played the final six minutes of an eight-point win.

Clippers guard Eric Gordon (right) shoots in front of Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson.

Clippers guard Eric Gordon (right) shoots in front of Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson during a game February 14.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“I’ve just watched him and played against him over the years, he just always played his part, whatever the team asked him to do,” Lue said. “He walked in and said the exact same thing to me, like, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.’ And it fits great.”

Gordon isn’t the only newcomer bringing this message of sacrifice to Lue. Gordon’s emergence as a closer has often sidelined starting guard, Russell Westbrook. Yet Westbrook was impressive again in his 27 minutes, with 15 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and no turnovers while remaining disciplined which shots he made against a defense that lured him into undisputed jump shots.

“You think of Russ, you think of relentless,” George said. “And that was the impression he gave the game.”

Several clippers cemented the winning streak and increased comfort of rotary players Gordon, Westbrook and Mason Plumlee, all added on or after the Feb. 9 close as a result of more practice time than usual over the past week. But that doesn’t quite explain the trend reversal, Gordon said. Two weeks after post-game comments following a loss to Golden State, in which he laid the blame for a late-season rebound on the players, Gordon stood in the locker room late Wednesday and said a change in mindset made it possible that this became a reality.

George repeated that now: “We play for each other and we expect to win – that was the big difference.”

And they’ve felt a difference with Gordon’s calmness in the clutch.

“I’m never afraid to take a hard shot at the end of the game because there’s going to be a lot more moments in the game in the playoffs or whatever, you just have to be willing to take those down,” he said.

In just a month with the Clippers, Gordon has already seen the toll of a five-game losing streak and the rejuvenation of a four-game winning streak. He keeps an eye on it. He’s been through worse.

Source : www.latimes.com

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