It’s fair to say that the Clippers perform best in the halfcourt when Baron Davis is looking to pass the ball, rather than chucking shots from beyond 20 feet. In two of the first three Clippers’ possessions in the first overtime, Davis distributes twice to Marcus Camby for two FGMs [a productuve third set is erased by a bad no-call]:
- [OT, 5:00] I can’t substantiate this statistically — though I’d be curious to know — but halfcourt sets in which Baron posts at the elbows seem to produce quality results. Maybe it’s merely because if Baron is at 18 feet, that means he’s not shooting from 24. This set is a perfect illustration. Baron is much stronger than T.J. Ford, so he backs the Pacers’ little guard in with little resistance. When the help comes from the baseline [Nesterovic], presto — Camby is free down low on the weak side. Baron makes a terrific pass across is body to find Marcus for the very easy two.
- [OT, 4:00] Very next set and, guess what? EJ once again feeds Baron at the left elbow, back to the basket against T.J. Ford. Baron again backs Ford in. Nesterovic is much more circumspect this time, keeping one eye on Camby to his right before committing. Baron gets in close and is then absolutely hacked by Ford. Two sh…Never mind. No call, as Ford picks up the loose ball and the Pacers go the other way. It’s an atrocious no-call, but Baron has to know better than to get T’ed up in an overtime period.
- [OT, 3:20] Baron is isolated up top on the far side against Ford again. Baron has three options on this play:  There’s some floppy action down low with Gordon setting a cross-screen to free up Randolph for position on the right block. But Josh McRoberts is doing some yeoman’s work on Zach, locking onto him over the screen.  Baron Davis can step back and shoot over his smaller defender from about 24 feet.  Thornton and Camby are out on the perimeter on the near side. More specifically, Camby is one step beyond the arc — well out of his range — but his man, Nesterovic, is situated defensively at the elbow. For all of Camby’s attributes as a player, his quickness and agility often go unnoticed.Here, Baron makes a great decision. For some reason, Nesterovic shifts his attention low — presumably to cut off any penetration should Baron opt for a dribble-drive. With Nesterovic now playing well off him, Camby dives for the basket. Baron delivers him a pinpoint pass at the elbow. Marcus never breaks stride — he catches the pass, then goes in for the easy layup.
The Clippers also go two for three on Randolph sets in the first overtime — and all three produce great looks for him:
- [OT, 2:50] Credit Baron Davis again. With McRoberts overplaying Randolph on the baseline side as they battle for position, Baron delivers a perfect bouce pass to Zach’s right — away from the baseline…but closer to the help. No worries. Randolph gets the ball, spins away from the baseline, steamrolls past the help…but misses the chippy. Still, anytime you can get a layup from 4 feet for Randolph vs. T.J. Ford, that’s a productive possession. Zach won’t miss many of those.
- [OT, 2:02] Randolph is battling in the post. It takes him :17 seconds of wrestling McRoberts, but Zach finally gets the space he wants. Davis feeds him. Two dribbles with his left. Spins baseline. Up with a little right-handed hook that kisses the glass. Vintage.
- [OT, 1:26] The Clippers still want Randolph in the post, but with McRoberts effectively fronting him, they’re going to have to feed Zach through the side door, as it were. This time, Zach receives the ball in the paint from Camby at the top of the key. This isn’t where Zach prefers to get the feed, but it will have to do. Being as central on the court as he is, Randolph draws a quick double-team. He muscles his way up against both McRoberts and Nesterovic, and draws the foul. He hits both shots.
The Clippers play some shoddy defense against the Pacers in this overtime period — a blown cover by Thornton that gives Brandon Rush a wide open 3PA being the most egregious — but let’s table that for a look at the final, aggravating possession.
Seeing as the Clippers get six good possessions [the no-call on Ford notwithstanding] by smartly exploiting two good offensive advantages —  Baron’s ability to control the action from the elbow against the tiny Ford and  Randolph down on the right block — you might think they have a perfect menu of options for a last possession with the game tied.
The Clips inbound with 0:11.8 remaining.
- It goes to Baron Davis in the backcourt one-on-one against T.J. Ford. The Clips want to use the entire 11.8 seconds, lest they leave the Pacers with enough time to set up their own shot. So Baron milks some clock. At about 4.5, Randolph flashes high to the perimeter, presumably for a screen. But Baron doesn’t wait. At about 3.4, he starts his dribble-drive against Ford. Baron goes right. At about 2.3 he picks up his dribble, elevates over Ford for a 15-footer that floats wide left — never drawing iron.
The first question is — does he have anything else? Eric Gordon is wide open to his right along the perimeter. I suppose you could argue that EJ open from 23 isn’t necessarily a better shot that Baron contested from 15.
I guess the more substantive point is this: The Clippers have been executing their offense against an undermanned opponent to near-perfection for the past ten or so possessions. The Pacers’ best interior defender [Jeff Foster] fouled out ages ago. You’ve got Zach Randolph against Josh McRoberts. You’ve got Al Thornton against Brandon Rush. You’ve got a big slow help defender in Nesterovic who is leaving Camby the keys to the safe on every possession.
Even if you want this possession to result in a Baron Davis FGA, why set it up in isolation above the arc? Why not feed Baron in the post at, say, 0:7.0? We know he can back Ford in for that same 15-footer. We also know that each time Baron does so, it completely scrambles the Pacers’ defense and opens up at least two good looks.
So why this? Is it Baron’s narcissism? Does he need to be The Guy?
I’m not suggesting that there aren’t times when Baron Davis in isolation from the top of the court won’t be a decent course of action. But it just seems like the Clippers have about half-a-dozen things working for them in a halfcourt set against the depleted Pacers, and a Baron Davis pull-up jumper off the dribble ain’t one of them.
Fortunately, the Clippers take control of the second overtime period. They wisely exploit Al Thornton against Brandon Rush. I realize that Rush was scouted as a good defender coming out of Kansas, but he strikes me as passive. Al beats him twice — the first time for an easy layup, the second time for FTAs. On the other end, the Clippers are quick to respond to Indiana’s motion. Camby plays much more aggressively away from the basket. The Pacers decide that McRoberts v. Randolph is their best hope.
Once EJ shakes Stephen Graham with a baseline cut and gets free in the left corner, Baron finds him for a wide open 3PA with a tremendous baseline pass off penetration. EJ drains the shot in front of the hometown faithful, and the Clippers put it on ice with a 114-107 lead with about 80 seconds remaining.
When Baron Davis distributes the ball in the halfcourt, the Clippers get their best shots. When Baron posts smaller guards and gets the ball as a spot-up shooter, he’s quite effective. But he’s a lousy jump-shooter off the dribble, a limitation that should be apparent to a heady 29-year-old, 10-year vet. Why the Clippers and Davis go to the weakest part of his game at the most crucial moments is bewildering.