The way things unravel in the closing minutes should, by all traditional standards of sports fandom, make this a tough loss to swallow. But with Zach Randolph in the mail, you have to view it through an entirely different prism. This is a transitional game for the Clippers, one in which they play very active defensively in the halfcourt, and get quality outings from the young guys. Al Thornton makes good use of the court — he takes all his shot inside of 18 — and continues to crash the boards. Eric Gordon takes his lumps on both ends. His line is ugly, but his growing pains are reasonable for a kid who was playing in high school gyms 18 months ago.
The two most troubling moments occur inside of three minutes, one by Chris Kaman, the other by Baron Davis:
- [4th, 2:25] The Clips have possession, leading by three. Davis is isolated on the far side against Andre Miller. Kaman dances around the top of the circle. He’s being trailed by Samuel Dalembert. As Kaman slides in front of Davis, Dalembert leaves Chris to trap Baron. Kaman now moves to his favorite spot — about 15 feet out on the right wing, where he’s been draining that face-up jumper with ruthless efficiency. Baron sees that Chris is wide open, and quickly dishes the ball over to him. The last dozen times Chris has had this shot, he’s taken it without hesitation. If he buries it here, the Clippers probably win the game.
He catches the ball with ease, squares, and lifts. A closing Elton Brand is no threat at all.Then Chris freezes.
He comes down as quickly as he went up. The Sixers’ bench wants a travel. In a panic, Chris now puts the ball on the floor against Elton, backing him in with his right shoulder and a left-handed dribble.
The clock runs out. Turnover.
- [4th, 0:16.1] The Clippers now trail by one. Thornton inbounds the ball to Baron Davis on the near side. There’s no action until about the :08.5 mark, when Chris Kaman comes to set a high screen for Baron above the circle. Naturally, the Sixers trap Baron. Kaman drags toward the key, as Baron spins left away from the double-team.
Baron has Chris if he wants him. Most textbook studies of this set would suggest that’s where the ball should go. It doesn’t…but can you blame Baron? If Chris is passing up wide-open looks with two minutes remaining and the Clips up three, why put the ball in his hands with under :10 and the team trailing by one?
Trusting nobody, Baron dribbles left. He’s got Al Thornton on the left wing and has just drawn Al’s man, Thad Young, to the ball — which leaves Al with space in the corner with :03.7. But Baron decides to take it himself. He awkwardly barrels into the lane, smothered by Andre Miller the whole way, and heaves up a runner in traffic that isn’t close. Sixers 89, Clippers 88.
These two sets are juxtaposed only to point out that Chris’ action on the first set probably compels Baron to do what he does on the second. If a big man won’t trust his own skills, why should his point guard?
More tomorrow on Brand’s game.