First off, I hope everyone is out of harm’s way. Best to you and your families.
A game against Golden State always presents challenges and opportunities. For Mike Dunleavy, who prefers a set halfcourt offense, Don Nelson’s ability to force a frenetic pace can take the Clippers out of their game. But in doing so, Nelson sacrifices size, which often results in advantageous mismatches for his opponent.
None of that matters after the early stage of the first quarter this afternoon.
For the second consecutive game, the Clippers get rolled by a peripheral NBA player, this time by undrafted rookie Anthony Morrow. Morrow goes for 37 points on 15-20 from the field, and collects 11 rebounds.
I saw Morrow live on a few occasions back in Atlanta. At Tech, he was a natural shooter who had a knack for darting to an open space on the perimeter, where Javaris Crittenton would find him for a spot-up jumper. The best game I saw Morrow play was a Saturday evening matchup against Florida State a couple winters ago [It was actually the first time I saw Al Thornton in all of his freakiness, as well.] The most impressive thing about Morrow that night was his gorgeous release and his ability to get open. He went 3-3 from beyond the arc, and finished with 17 off the bench. Can’t say I had any sense he’d ever play meaningful minutes in the Association. But he gave the Jackets a big lift that night.
But enough of Anthony Morrow’s collegiate heroics. The pressing question is how do the Clippers let a guy like that — or Beno Udrih — get off?
If Don Nelson decides to go with a natural PG, chances are Morrow doesn’t even get the start. But Nelson seems to be getting increasingly comfortable with Stephen Jackson running the offense — to the extent the Golden State offense gets run by anyone.
Cuttino Mobley starts out on Morrow, who misses his first shot from the field about two minutes into the game. One thing you notice about Morrow is that he has a Hamiltonian tendency to never stop moving off the ball. He gets that first FGA coming off a fade cut. Mobley closes quickly, and Morrow misses the shot.
Morrow’s first make comes on a transition play. He slips past the Clippers transition D, and Azubuike finds him for an easy layup that caps off that jackrabbit 13-2 start for Golden State. Morrow’s first FGM from the perimeter comes about a minute later when Mobley and Thornton get completely crossed up, leaving Morrow wide open on the left wing for a 3PM. His third FGM of the period is a post-up on Mobley. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Morrow with his back to the basket — certainly not much at Tech — and he doesn’t work himself much of a shot here. It’s a fade-away jumper that falls…but probably shouldn’t Not a great shot.
Morrow doesn’t return until about midway through the second quarter, and we still have no inkling that he’s going to take over the game. He drains his second 3PM when Ricky Davis doubles Stephen Jackson, leaving Morrow free to dart to the most vacant spot on the arc.
How does Morrow find that space? When CJ Watson cuts to the basket from the arc, it prompts both Al Thornton and Eric Gordon — who’s covering the weak side — to trail him. So now this leaves a vacuum outside. Now you can’t fault Thornton and EJ, because you want someone to pick up that cutter. But this is the difference between teams like Detroit or Boston and a team like the Clippers. The good teams? They almost telepathically know which guy is going to move with the cutter in that situation. That’s why they’re playing in May. It’s tough to expect a rookie and a second-year player to have that kind of mutual awareness…yet.
Jackson immediately spots Morrow all alone and heaves the ball to the arc. 3PM.
Morrow’s next basket is an open 10-footer in the lane. How does a guy like Morrow get an open shot like that in a halfcourt set? Because Ronny Turiaf, for all his limitations, knows how to screen a defender as gullible as Al Thornton. That’s why Turiaf is useful.
To close out the half, Morrow gets an easy layup on a break, beats Eric Gordon off the dribble for a pull-up jumper from the foul stripe, then earns a trip to the line when he gets fouled by Baron Davis on a jumper. He finishes the half with 18 points.
How do the Clippers adjust in the second half?
Al Thornton clearly gets orders to stay at home on Morrow at all times, and Morrow doesn’t touch the ball much in the first half of the 3rd quarter. Then at [3rd, 6:03] there’s a strange defensive breakdown. Jackson has the ball out on the left wing. Kaman, whose man, Biedrins, is hanging out on the weak side of the basket, straddles the lane — possibly positioning himself to double-team and/or cut off the baseline to Jackson. Morrow is in the far corner, but since Kaman has cheated, Thornton does too — and now he’s straddling between Biedrins and Morrow. Jackson makes this play. He recognizes the Clippers’ cheating and lasers a pretty cross-court pass to Morrow. Thornton is late. 3PM.
I know it seems counter-intuitive…but Stephen Jackson is one of the smartest players in the game.
It wasn’t all silky jumpers for Morrow. His next basket comes when he destroys Baron Davis underneath off a Warrior miss. He goes up for an easy tip-in.
Morrow finishes with 11 rebounds, which tells you a little something about the Clippers’ wings. An athlete like Al Thornton needs to rack up more than two rebounds in 33 minutes. Ricky Davis recorded zero rebounds. Cat Mobley, three. Only Gordon exerts his strength on the glass — 5 boards in 19 minutes.
Morrow takes over in the 4th quarter. He shreds the Clipper zone on the first possession of the period for an open 20-footer. Not sure of Dunleavy’s strategy. Is his sense that a lineup of Camby-Thornton-R. Davis-Gordon-B. Davis is susceptible to the mismatch against Turaif-Maggette-Azubuike-Morrow-Watson? The Clippers are getting beat on jump shots and offensive rebounds, not dribble-penetration.
At any rate, Morrow finds the soft spot, and as Ricky Davis inexplicably leaves Morrow on the perimeter to converge on Watson, Watson finds him. His next make is a layup off an inbounds. The Clippers are in a coma. The next? Beating Ricky Davis off the dribble with a drive down the lane. In some respects, I don’t fault Davis for overplaying Morrow and making him put it on the floor, but good defenders can play tight on a guy’s body and still react to defend him off the dribble. Once Morrow gets loose, Camby is late. He fouls Morrow on the little running layup. Morrow sinks the FT. The Warriors are up 11 with 8:12. Morrow has 33.
On the next possession, why not let Morrow bring the ball upcourt? He gives the ball to Touriaf, then curls around a solid Stephen Jackson screen, which trips up Ricky Davis. Think he’s going to miss an open 15-footer? Not today. He gets his final bucket of the game in transition [It's not like you wanna pick up a guy who's hit 14 shots from the floor on the break or anything]. By the time Baron Davis closes, Morrow’s 36th and 37th point are en route.
The Clippers have plenty of offensive problems as well. That S/R that Baron and Kaman had working about a week ago has vanished. Thornton is generally playing a low-IQ brand of basketball, not recognizing good opportunities on the weak side or, hell, the strong side, even. And even when Al does recognize them, he can’t make a crisp pass. There was a moment — I think toward the end of the first half — where he had Eric Gordon wide open just behind him beyond the arc. All Al has to do is hit EJ in the chest. But the pass is high, and by the time Gordon goes up for the shot — the clock is about the expire — the defender closes.
Meanwhile, Tim Thomas is giving them nothing on either end, and it’s only a matter of time before Paul Davis starts picking up some more PF minutes. He’s inactive today, and I can assume only that the Clips feel that they need a smaller bench.
How much solace can you take knowing you’re the best 1-8 team in basketball?
ADDENDUM: Good interview with Anthony Morrow by Matt Steinmetz. He killed the Clippers today, but it’s a nice story nonetheless.