BARNES PLAYING FREE SINCE DEADLINE PASSED
OKLAHOMA CITY – Matt Barnes was bouncing up and down in the tunnel to the right of the Clippers bench, trying to stay loose.
He sprained both of his ankles on a tough foul by Kevin Durant earlier in the Clippers’ 125-117 victory over the Thunder Sunday afternoon and he knew if he sat for too long the adrenaline may wear off.
Barnes needed to get back on the floor. And the Clippers (38-20) needed him as well. He had 24 points and seven rebounds on Sunday, going 6-for-10 from 3-point range, including making all three of his attempts in the first quarter.
“Matt was shooting that three easy and with confidence and he had to guard Durant, so he had his hands full,” Jamal Crawford said. “But he played great. He was really our x-factor today.”
Barnes set the tone when L.A. jumped out to a 12-2 lead and left his stamp on the game, not just because of his ability to knock down nearly every shot he took, but because despite being hobbled he had the guile to stay in the game.
“I was playing off adrenaline,” Barnes said. “But I’ll get work done tonight and hopefully be ready to go tomorrow [in New Orleans].”
Sunday’s performance may have started two nights earlier when the Clippers lost in Memphis. Barnes was free of the uncertainty that hung around him during the trade deadline when he seemed distracted and uncertain of his future. He was free of his frustration from a season that has seen him sidelined due to three separate injuries, shifted from reserve sparkplug to starting small forward, and his numbers dip significantly following a career year in 2012-13.
“Since the trade deadline I think I know my days are numbered here,” Barnes said. “So, I’m going to out there and have fun and play as a hard as I can and help the team in any way. I think I was thinking too much and trying to read into trades and this and that.”
Barnes talked Thursday after practice about waiting out the deadline on the team plane and seeing two teammates, Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens, get dealt and leave the charter before they departed for Memphis. He called the nearly two hours of waiting “tense” and a “sweatbox.”
But in Memphis, he appeared a lot like the player he was a year ago, sprinting the sideline to the corners of the court and flying in to help out on the defensive glass. In Oklahoma City, Barnes’ 3-point shooting was important, but so was a late layup he made that gave the Clippers a 109-107 lead and his fight to keep the ball alive on several misses on the offensive end.
That’s the Barnes the Clippers have missed through his calf and quad injuries and torn retina. In a way, Sunday’s game may have been like pushing the reset button on the season for him.
Point guard Chris Paul, who for two years has been one of Barnes’ biggest advocates, noticed the difference in Barnes since the deadline passed, particularly because the entire team knows they are in the stretch run together.
“Trades and stuff that’s the business of basketball, but the good thing is our team, we talk, we talk a lot more than we used to in the past,” Paul said. “We try not to leave anything unsaid. We’re family and we understand that.
“If we’re going to win this thing, this is who we’re going to win it with. Nobody’s going anywhere. We’re going to each other.”