ATLANTA — Ball movement is a beautiful thing. That Spalding moves faster than a human being, faster than even Josh Smith. When it goes into the right player in the right place at the right moment, it can produce miracles. To wit: The Clippers generate 38 assists on 49 field goals tonight.
The waters part in the third quarter, after Mike Dunleavy calls timeout at [3rd, 9:52] when Atlanta cuts the deficit to eight. Coming out of that timeout, the Clippers score on 15 of their next 16 possessions — and the only trip that results in nothing is a pair of missed free throws by Baron Davis. The Clippers shred the Hawks’ defense. How? The Hawks double Randolph anytime he touches the ball down on the block. The Clippers, in turn, exploit that advantage out on the perimeter and the result is one clean look after another.
The Clippers begin the game with a very smart brand of halfcourt offense. Zach Randolph creates space to launch a 7-foot hook shot [1st, 11:13]. The shot misses, but it’s one you want him to take. On possessions #3 and #4 Eric Gordon gets a floater two feet from the basket, and Al Thornton launches the first in a series of strong, driving layups. This continues for much of the first quarter and sets the tone for the game, one in which the Clippers control the halfcourt [they score only 18 of their 121 points on the break...not a bad thing].
Al plays one of his best games of the year in front of the home folks who make the trip up from Perry — he gives away 50-60 tickets. He abuses a very scrambled Hawks defense, and is quick to the glass on every Atlanta miss. Of Al’s 14 first half shot attempts, 10 are from inside of 15 feet, and these shots account for 14 of his 16 first half points. From 15 feet and beyond in the first half, he shoots only 1-4 from the floor.
In the third quarter, Al achieves unconsciousness — a state he’s never been in this season. He drains catch-and-shoot jumpers. The ball comes off his fingers with an ungodly, tight rotation, and beautiful arc. Running back downcourt, he seems joyous. He makes sounds decisions at every turn. At [3rd, 5:28], Al draws a shorter Joe Johnson on mismatch and recognizes that’s the opportunity for a jumper. At [3rd, 4:40], he considers, but ultimately passes on a contested 3PA at the top of the circle, and makes the smart pass to the weak side instead. Al finishes with 31 points [13-22 FG, 1-2 3PFG, 4-5 FT, 64% TS], seven rebounds and six assists.
Marcus Camby finishes with six assists, as well. The Clippers position Camby at the top of the circle on several halfcourt possessions, and it pays off. He makes several pinpoint entry passes into Zach Randolph in the post, or to Al Thornton in motion.
“Coach put me in a situation where I can deliver the ball to either Zach posting up on the high-low, or I can dump it inside to Al,” Camby said.
Situating Camby above the stripe gives the Clippers’ halfcourt offense a breezier flow. His presence out there invariably draws a big defender out of the middle; Randolph gets space to operate down low, Al can work closer to the hoop, and the guards can move off the ball.
Speaking of Mr. Randolph, is there a guy in the league with a more bizarre, enigmatic skill set? He can’t jump over a frozen pizza, usually gets killed down low defensively, and his screen-setting is abominable. But when Randolph is in his groove offensively, he’s indefensible. And you know what else? He’s a whip-smart offensive player. Matched up against Josh Smith in the first half, Randolph sets up shop on the block. But when Zaza Pachulia is assigned to him in the third quarter, Zach moves farther away from the basket, challenging the slower defender to deal with him in open space.
Satisfying stats of the night: 132.3 Offensive Efficiency Rate. And 86.8% Defensive Rebounding Rate.