Over the first five games of the season, Baron Davis had largely been deferential to his teammates. To some extent, that was a function of his injury — he averaged fewer than 30 mpg during the first five games and wasn’t quite right at the outset. But I think it was also a concession, of sorts, on Baron’s part. You get the sense that he didn’t want to take over the offense until the team was given a chance to succeed or fail as an egalitarian entity. This isn’t to say that he hadn’t chucked up some 25-footers, or called his own number at times. By and large, though, Baron had sought to be a facilitator first and a scorer second.
For the first time last night, we see Baron assert himself as the team’s primary offensive option. This could very well be a harbinger that, as the season progresses, Baron will look to score more. It’s a positive development and, most nights, should keep the Clippers in more ballgames. On the other hand, I don’t want to extrapolate too much. Baron’s willingness to take things over might merely be a reflection of Houston’s defensive strategy vs. what the Lakers do defensively. On Wednesday night, the Lakers doubled Baron all night off the pick and roll. Houston, on the other hand, employs more of a stay-at-home scheme. So they’ll allow a little bit of penetration and force the ballhandler to make plays. But Davis’ posture last night seems like more than just a product of the conditions on the floor — it’s a statement of intent. It also produces one of Chris Kaman’s better games in recent memory — at least until the game’s closing minutes.
There’s a lot to measure here. Marcus Camby grabs 13 boards in 26 minutes, but we get a glimpse of what Denver fans grumbled about. Camby’s tendency to be a weak side defender first and an interior defender second is on full display — and it’s not really what you need against Houston. Camby is one of the game’s best roving big men, and he prefers to play off his guy so he can perform that function. That’s all well and good — except when the matchup is a guy like Luis Scola. Rabid Olympic basketball fans will tell you, that there wasn’t a more effective big man in Beijing than Scola. He’s active, has great footwork in the post, knows where he’s most useful on the floor at a given moment, and he must be attended to on the wing — something Camby doesn’t really like to do:
- [1st, 7:39] McGrady [Mobley] and Scola [Camby] run a S/R on the left side. Camby doesn’t really double or show. He drops back into the lane, anticipating a McGrady drive. Meanwhile, Scola has slipped the screen and is now completely alone at about 16 feet. McGrady makes an easy pass, and Scola nails the shot.
- [1st, 6:19] McGrady is posting up Mobley on the left post. With Yao comfortably on the weak side and out of the play, Kaman comes into double. Camby, again, plays way off Scola and drifts into the paint — even though the Clippers interior defense is pretty well spoken for. In other words, Camby is far more useful here playing Scola — or, at the very least, playing the passing lane to Scola. But, instead, he’s on general patrol. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, per se. It’s how you defend a dribble-drive and stave off penetration. But it seems like a less-than-optimal way to defend a post set like this, and it’s indisputable that Scola devastated the Clippers early. And there’s a reason.
- [1st, 9:56] Some early offense here for the Clips. On the way down, Yao settles beneath the basket. Chris missed the earlier shot from 15, but he sees that with Yao playing so far beneath the hoop, the same spot three feet closer at 12 is open for business. Camby darts a nice entry pass into Chris, who immediately sets and shoots with his right. If Chris deliberates for a second, he loses the look. He doesn’t, and it goes in. Decisiveness 1, Deliberation 0.
- [1st, 4:09] Love this possession. Baron/Kaman S/R on the right wing. Baron dribbles right of the screen as Kaman hits a spot in the mid-right post. Yao doubles down on Baron who, when he sees Chris open, slings a pass across his body to Chris. Yao quickly recovers. And you know what? Chris drives right into Yao’s body and doesn’t stop until he’s at the rim. The baby 2-foot hook is good.
- [3rd, 10:10] Something I’m not sure we’ve ever seen: An alley-oop. Early again — Chris is able to slip underneath Yao. He catches Baron’s lob and drops it in.
- [3rd, 7:39] The Clippers are scoring at will; they convert FGs on seven of their first eight possessions. This is an oddly effective little play. Skinner [Landry] holds it up high. He decides to put it on the floor. As Skinner drives to the hoop, Kaman trails him. Once Skinner beats Landry, Yao has to step back to help. In doing so, he leaves Chris wide open at 7 feet. Skinner knows this and he kicks it over to Kaman. With a hard dribble, Kaman drives into the lane, stops, elevates, and kisses a left-handed hook off the glass. It’s another case of Chris being cognizant of where he can do the most damage on the floor. Yao has to help there. Chris knows that, so he puts himself in position to get the ball. Rik Smits used to do this really well. A center who can will pick up an additional 4-6 ppg.
- [3rd, 3:48] Two-man game with Baron and Chris. First off, it’s worth noting how into the game Chris is at this juncture. He’s amped — but not spastic. It’s a beautiful thing. He tries to set up Baron for a pick-and-roll, but Alston does nice lock-and-trail work. Nevertheless, Baron turns the corner right, enters the paint, and is met by Landry, who is playing a little bit off Skinner, natch. Baron reverses course, and when he does, he draws Yao’s attention for a split second. This is masterful by Baron Davis: He spins back left, drawing a little more of Yao, then elevates for a shot…but now he has Chris alone at 8 feet. He zips a pass and Chris doesn’t fuck around here: No dribble, no drop step, just a clean right-handed face-up jumper.
- [4th, 10:11] Off an inbounds, the Clippers run some elbow action on the far side. Who’s the screener? None other than Baron Davis [this is an underrated part of his game -- a willingness to do some big-guard dirty work off the ball]. It’s a great back screen that frees up Chris to dart to the near side for an easy entry pass from Ricky Davis. Kaman hops, pumps, then slams it home. Beautiful little set out of an inbounds.
So what goes wrong? For one, the Clippers have no one to guard Ron Artest. Asking Cat Mobley to do so is just unfair. Thornton tries valiantly, but Artest is too smart. And it’s why Artest has maintained his place on the First Team All-Matchup-Nightmare list.
Second, Carl Landry abuses Marcus Camby. I haven’t observed Landry enough to determine whether he’s a ‘heady’ ballplayer. But let’s just say that at every conceivable juncture, he leverages Camby’s inclination to play off him to perfection. We see it in a crucial possession with the Clippers down only five with about 3:40 remaining. Artest drives down the gut of the lane — and Thornton is doing a very nice job on him. But as Camby drifts off Landry, the PF meets Artest in the passing lane. Artest dishes, and Landry slams it home. Want to know what’s even nuttier? 45 seconds later [2:53], Camby leaves Landry to double, yes, Rafer Alston on the perimeter. Alston lobs an easy pass into Landry, who goes up for a 5-footer. Good.
Look, not all of this is on Marcus Camby. That’s an important point. Camby is generally good at what he does and against many teams, having him play off his guy and be Mr. Weak Side Rover will be the most effective course of action. But if that’s going to be the case, then the Clippers have to rotate over. If they don’t, then they’re going to lose a lot of games to guys like Carl Landry and Luis Scola.
Landry + Scola: 48 minutes, 14-24 FGs, 34 points, 16 rebounds [5 OR].
Not to bury the lede or anything…