Thornton Cruising with the Clippers
Posted Jul 17 2008 2:46AM
LAS VEGAS, July 16, 2008 -- Everybody searches for that one moment in their life when they become the person they’re destined to be and they rise to new heights.
It could be Abe Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address, or John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their clenched, black glove wearing fists, or Michael Jordan coming up with the steal and shot sequence against Utah that defined him as the best ever.
Clippers second-year forward Al Thornton, just 24-years old, has already had a moment like that.
Back on Jan. 30 of last season, Thornton had a home game scheduled against Atlanta and his play was starting to come into form. After reaching double-digit scoring just seven times in 26 games during November and December, January was turning out to be a banner month as he had become a regular in the double figures column, reaching the feat in six out of 12 games.
With the All-Star game just weeks away and the participants in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge set to be announced any day now, Thornton felt pretty good about how his season was shaping up when he arrived at STAPLES Center to play the Hawks.
And then he heard the news before the game: he wouldn’t be going to New Orleans, he wasn’t selected to the Rookie squad.
Thornton used the slight as motivation, pouring in a career-high 33 points on 13-for-20 shooting and putting to shame Rookie invitee Al Horford’s 5-for-12 line as L.A. came away with the 95-88 victory.
He was dominant, proving that he can be the best player on the court on any given night, let alone the best rookie.
“I think that was the moment everybody recognized my talent, recognized my ability and I was kind of seen on the national stage,” remembered Thornton on Wednesday after leading the Clippers to another victory – albeit a summer league one – over the Grizzlies. “That was a big game for me, it kind of got me started and had a snowball effect.”
Even in the dead desert heat of Vegas, that snowball continues to grow.
Thornton had 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field and 8-for-9 from the line to go with eight rebounds and three assists on Wednesday.
The outing raised Thornton’s four game averages at the Las Vegas Summer League to 19.0 points on .480 from the field, .333 from three, .813 from the foul line along with 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.
That line is up across the board from his summer league experience last year when he went for 17.6 points on .377 from the field, .250 from three, .784 from the foul line and 6.2 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game.
Not to mention he’s reduced his fouls from 5.0 per game to just 1.0 and his turnovers from 4.0 to 2.75.
The performance was not surprising considering how Thornton finished the season, making the five-man T-Mobile All-Rookie Team after being snubbed from the nine-man All-Star roster.
“My main focus coming in this year was to just try to improve in certain areas such as becoming a better defender, becoming a better rebounder and definitely my assists area,” Thornton said.
“I’m trying to find my teammates, everybody knows I can score the ball.”
While the Florida State products assists have risen, he’s still not about to let his 6-8, 220-pound frame go to waste when L.A. is trying to put a game away, as it was against Memphis on Wednesday.
With Thornton resting on the bench from about the four minute mark of the fourth to the two minute mark, the Grizzlies closed what was a 10-point gap entering the final period and tied the game.
Memphis countered with a three by rookie sensation O.J. Mayo (20 points, 8-for-22 shooting, five assists) to cut it to four, but Thornton came through again with two free throws to secure the 82-74 win.
“I thrive on those situations,” Thornton said. “When my team needs a bucket I think that I have the ability to do that, but my main focus was to be a better rebounder, a better team guy and just a better defender. That was an area I think I needed to grow in and I think I’m making strides this summer league.”
The 2005-06 Clippers team that made it to the Western Conference Semifinals was officially dismantled this offseason with the departures of Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, but that’s no reason to think that there’s gloom in store for the ’08-09 Clips team.
“I think that’s a great addition to our team,” Thornton said. “He’s a shot blocker back there, a great rebounder; definitely a team guy and I can’t wait to meet him.
We definitely have a talented group … I think we can make some things happen this year. I think the main thing is how we’re going to play together, what’s our chemistry going to be like? So, I’m waiting to see.”
Maybe Thornton’s “moment” has yet to come.