Just minutes into the Clippers’ Tuesday night matchup with the Thunder, Avery Bradley collected an errant and ill-advised Paul George wrap-around pass to Steven Adams and turned to push the ball up court. Danilo Gallinari, just below the free throw line, worked to get his 6-foot-11 frame moving in the opposite direction, using his long, loping strides to keep pace with Bradley’s frenetic below-the-waist churning.
With numbers in the Clippers’ favor, Jerami Grant found himself with responsibility for both Bradley and Gallinari as they all reached the 3-point line. Bradley hesitated, pulling Grant toward him, before dropping off a slightly late pass to the cutting Gallinari.
Freeze the frame at this moment, just as Gallinari catches the pass, and it doesn’t appear to be an obvious advantage. Grant’s momentum is pulled in the wrong direction, but he is 6-foot-9 and pure kinetic energy. It doesn’t take much imagination to see him taking two steps towards the paint and pinning a layup to the glass. Terrance Ferguson, just as springy as Grant, is glued to Tobias Harris just a step outside the paint and looking for the opportunity to make himself a highlight. And Gallo, almost the same size as the burly Steven Adams who is just hustling into the frame behind the play, is catching the ball well behind his body as he moves towards the basket.
The result, a smooth and-1 layup, is the perfect illustration of what makes Gallinari a basketball player with watching.
Simply catching the slightly delayed pass from Bradley is a tremendous feat of hand-eye coordination. Gathering it and taking a dribble without being stripped by Ferguson is another. Absorbing a bump from both defenders and unfurling every inch of his wingspan to get the ball on the rim just out of the reach of Grant is an act of precision. This is three points for the Clippers, without the benefit of explosion — just footwork, pacing, body control and intuitive trigonometry.
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
In a television show or novel, the third act is a defined narrative epoch. It’s the home of resolution, where the rising action crests, questions are answered, lessons are learned, personal growth is cemented and the path is laid for a future to which the reader, or viewer, will not be party. The third act is when Henry Hill realizes his only choice is to go to the feds, when Andy Dufresne turns up missing, when Royal arrives for Henry and Etheline’s wedding.
Not every story fits this structure and laying the template over Danilo Gallinari’s career sure makes it seem like you’ve been following a narrative without much payoff.
The first act of Danilo Gallinari’s career took place over two-and-a-half seasons and 157 games with the New York Knicks. He was struggling for consistency but carving out a niche as a revelatory young scorer, a potentially foundational piece, a big who could shoot, post-up and drive the ball — something like the next Dirk Nowitzki, when being the “Next ” was still something that mattered.
Like any good second act, the universe came for Gallinari. Carmelo Anthony wanted to play in New York. The Nuggets wanted every asset they could reasonably receive in return, and the Knicks were, unfortunately, willing to oblige. The second act was 303 games across parts of six seasons with the Denver Nuggets. Over that span, Gallo had four complete seasons in Denver in which he appeared in less than 70 games, a story of a body breaking down in myriad ways, never quite debilitating enough to amount to any sort of definitive ending.
In those years, Gallinari was delivering on the potential he had displayed with the Knicks. He shot from the perimeter, he flashed his touch and creativity inside. He posted over smaller defenders and craftily exploited bigger ones. But he wasn’t on the court enough for it to matter for Denver’s big picture. The team’s era of “whole is more than the sum of its parts” never really worked out, mathematically, and Gallinari was given the opportunity to become a free agent and, ultimately, a Los Angeles Clipper.
A few minutes after that exquisite first-quarter layup, Gallinari, quietly, showed off again. Another delayed fastbreak with Bradley. A side pick-and-roll. Gallo slipping the screen and Bradley, again, making the right read but delivering a pass three feet off target, this time leading Gallo, who stretches to corral the pass before it goes out of bounds.
He pulls it in, of course, takes a dribble with a subtle feint towards the baseline to pull the rotating Adams into the air, and then drops the no-look shovel off to Marcin Gortat who gets hammered and sent to the foul line.
Gallinari would finish the first half with 23 points, having made six of his nine shots from the field. Before he could venture back to the locker room to rest up and take stock of his quiet effectiveness, he would be pulled aside to tell Fox Sports’ Jamie Maggio, “Our teammates are finding us at the right time and the right timing, so the rhythm is pretty good.”
Gallo managed just four points in the second half. His teammates chipped in 39. The Thunder? Well, they won the third quarter by 29 and ran away a much-needed win, the final 18-margin being mostly superfluous. Two months from now, if anyone remembers this game it will be because Patrick Beverley dove for a ball, careened into Westbrook’s lower legs, invoked a painful history of ligament tears and rehabilitation and summoned Oklahoma City’s finest to make sure everyone stayed cool(ish).
The 27 points Gallinari scored will help build on the career-high per game scoring average he’s assembled in this young season. The mere 15 shots attempts he needed to accomplish it will help scaffold a true shooting percentage that is also in career-high territory. But he won’t be the story tonight, that honor will go to Beverley’s chaotic physicality. And, even if he maintains his current numbers, Gallinari probably won’t be the story for the Clippers this season, even if they do crash the playoffs in the Western Conference and assert themselves as a team with moves to make –the ascension of Tobias Harris will be more gripping, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence will seem more important, Boban’s quirks will have more fetish fan appeal.
Gallinari’s third act is almost certainly devoid of twists and stunning turns of fate. For all his size, Gallinari’s is a small story. Basketball player, fantastic, and yet not quite exceptional. Basketball player of incredible size, who separates himself from his peers in the most modest of tasks — catching a ball off balance, holding his form through contact, placing his feet exactly where they need to be, and nowhere else, seeing space the moment before it exists.
It’s a fascinating story, but I suppose it’s not for everyone.