You want the long view or the short one?
Let’s start with the big picture. Zach Randolph returns for the Clippers tonight. For the first time in weeks, the team manages to put a lineup of Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Al Thornton, Randolph, and Marcus Camby on the floor for a few abbreviated stretches. Randolph begins a tad rusty, but hits his stride toward the end of the first quarter. He finishes with 21 points [7-15 FG, 7-7 FT, 58.1% TS] with five rebounds and zero turnovers in 26 minutes. He appears a little tentative getting off the ground, which makes sense with the bum knee.
The Clippers lose this one on the defensive end. They yield a defensive efficiency number of 126.0. To put that in perspective, the best offensive team in basketball [Lakers] and the worst defensive team in the league [Sacramento] have respective offensive/defensive ratings of approximately 111. You could pick out any measurable part of the game and find defensive lapses on the Clippers’ side of the ball. Miami doesn’t hit difficult shots. They’re able to find open space on the floor whenever they want it. The Heat shreds the Clippers on perfect execution in the halfcourt, back door cuts, and easy transition buckets. A sampling:
- [2nd, 4:47] Well-executed set by Miami — a simple pin-down for James Jones. Mario Chalmers brings the ball up. Jones sets up in the far right corner guarded by Steve Novak. Udonis Haslem is hanging out near the right elbow with Randolph playing a little off him. The action is quick: Jones cuts up from the corner, while Haslem sets the solid down screen that Novak hits like a brick wall. Randolph never even attempts to step out and show. So Jones gets a wide open look from about 20 feet, and hits the shot.
- [3rd, 5:39] The Clippers are clearly trying to zone up, but they can’t get their act together quickly enough to stop Miami. Jamaal Magloire doesn’t have much game left, but he’s smart. The Heat’s center darts immediately to the soft spot in the middle of the zone, smack dab in the paint. Wade hits him with a pass and he strolls in for a dunk.
- [3rd, 2:58] Chalmers rushes the ball upcourt. He executes a little dribble-handoff with Marion while running his defender, Baron Davis, into Marion. Marion shovels the ball back to Chalmers, who speeds toward the right corner. Meanwhile, on the weak side, Dwyane Wade lingers in the left corner. Ricky Davis accounts for Wade…only he doesn’t really. As Chalmers turns the corner and begins to drive baseline from the right side, Wade cuts baseline on the left side. The cut is unimpeded because Davis is playing off him. Wade meets Chalmers beneath the hoop. Chalmers delivers Wade a little bounce pass for an easy two. What didn’t happen? Ricky has to cut off the baseline, particularly with the Clippers defense collapsing on the strong side, because there’s simply nobody available to help on Wade.
There’s also a procession of easy 3PMs for Miami on crappy rotations.
- [4th, 5:43] Not sure we’ve ever seen the Clippers this discombobulated defensively. Chris Quinn brings the ball up opposite Ricky Davis. He dishes it off to Wade who has come around two screens — Jones on the baseline, then Joel Anthony on the wing. Quinn passes it off to Wade on his right. Davis leaves Quinn to pick up Wade…but nobody rotates onto Quinn. Not sure who the guilty party is — it’s not like you want Fred Jones to leave James Jones alone on the arc, but someone has to close on Quinn. I think if you’re Brian Skinner — on Joel Anthony — you might have to step out on Wade, thereby allowing Ricky Davis to remain on Quinn. Any way you slice it, the Clippers have no defensive cohesion and it kills them tonight.
Let’s move on to the rehabilitated lineup. The five of them take the floor together three times. The first stint comes at [1st, 4:31]:
- [1st, 4:31-2:38] The Clippers convert points on all three possessions. The first comes with Randolph isolated on the right wing against Joel Anthony. Randolph takes a couple of jab steps, then steps back and drains the 15-footer over Anthony. On the next trip down, the Miami bigs get crossed up. Both Anthony and Haslem move low to cover Randolph, which leaves Camby alone at the top of the circle. Baron gets him the ball there, and he sinks the 18-footer. On the third and final possession of this series, the Clippers want Baron Davis in the post against Chris Quinn. The ball goes into Baron just off the low left block. Baron watches the defense as Thornton dives from the right wing to the hoop, and Gordon fills the space Thornton left behind on the right side of the arc. Baron delivers a crisp skip pass to Gordon out on the perimeter. Wade closes, but Camby is open again at the top of the circle when Anthony gets distracted by the cross-court pass. Gordon gets the ball to Camby. Again, Camby takes his full wind-up and nails that shot from the top of the circle.
- [2nd, 6:50-4:36] Another stretch of about two minutes. This time, the Clippers score on two of five possessions. On the first set, the Clippers go into Randolph on the left block against Anthony. Randolph backs him in with a right-handed dribble, then spins baseline with a pretty move — but he misses the hook. The second possession is a strong drive-and-kick initiated by Baron. As he drives into traffic, Baron finds an open Thornton, and Al nails the open 17-footer. On the third possession, Baron and Randolph execute a side screen-roll to perfection. Anthony chooses to trap Baron, clearly anticipating a switch — but Wade doesn’t move. This leaves Randolph wide open for an uncontested 18-foot jumper, which he drains. The next trip down, Randolph isn’t as accurate. He’s left with a wide open 3PA in transition at the top of the arc. It misses. On the final possession, Gordon turns the ball over on a drive to the hoop.
- [3rd, 8:37-8:03] A very brief stint with all five principals. The Clips struggle to get into their offense here. Finally, at about :10, Camby moves up from the post to set a screen for Baron. Camby pops left, while Baron drives right. Baron probably drives a step too many, because Chalmers is able to rotate up to defend Camby when the pass from Baron comes his way [an earlier pass finds Camby open for that top-of-the-circle jumper]. Without a clean look, Camby sends it to Gordon on his left. EJ drives inside, luring Michael Beasley, Thornton’s man. Gordon makes the smart pass — a kick to an open Thornton on the perimeter. Al’s long 2PA is no good…but Camby gets the tip on the miss.
TOTAL: 12 points in 9 possessions [133.3 offensive efficiency].
So there’s your good news.