In a rare confluence of offensive efficiency and defensive moxie, the Clippers put together their most impressive half of basketball this season. They outscore Sacramento 35-13 in the first quarter, missing only eight shots in 24 possessions, and go into halftime with a 58-32 lead. Everything works. They establish themselves inside early against the Kings, then put their foot on the accelerator with one of the best looking transition sequences of the year — back-to-back breaks that yield six points in 20 seconds:
- [1st, 9:18] Beno Udrih, with the ball against Baron Davis, gets a screen out on the right wing from Spencer Hawes. Udrih keeps it, then pulls up at the elbow for an off-balanced jumper — even though Hawes has managed to cut behind Camby on the roll. There’s nothing wrong with a guard pulling up for a 12-foot jumper when he’s got some space, but Hawes’ basket cut is probably the better tack here for Udrih because Camby doesn’t really defend it.
Camby corrals the rebound, then pushes it up ahead to Baron on the right sideline. Moving quickly, Baron takes a single dribble. At halfcourt, he kicks it ahead — to Fred Jones across the court on the left side. The ball is with Jones for only a nanosecond, as he hits a trailing Eric Gordon with a touch pass that sets up EJ for a set 25-footer 3PA in rhythm.
It’s a professional fast break: Beautiful outlet by Camby, nice orchestration by Baron, the extra pass from Jones, and an unconsciously sweet stroke by Gordon.
- [1st, 8:56] A decent set by Sacramento: A high S/R for Udrih/Thompson, off which the Clippers trap the ball. Thompson rolls toward the box and Eric Gordon has to rotate over from the Francisco Garcia in the corner to pick up Thompson. This leaves Garcia for an open 3PA in the corner, a shot that clanks off the front of the rim.
Camby battles for the rebound, then passes the ball to Baron, who — with a quick backward flick of his right hand, sends a behind-the-back pass upcourt that hits Eric Gordon in stride as the rookie sprints up the right sideline. It’s a gorgeous maneuver that allows Gordon to maintain full speed. Eric storms into the paint, draws contact on Udrih, then finishes the layup as the whistle blows. He hits the FTA, and the Clippers lead 11-4
The Clippers’ big men put together a strong collective effort. Though Camby doesn’t convert a FG, he gobbles up 11 rebounds in 22 minutes. Brian Skinner has a career offensive night: 8-11 FG, 5-6 FT, 21 points — 17 of them in the first half. The Kings have a horrible habit of offering up a defensive switch when it helps them the least. Skinner is able to capitalize on this a couple of times, including a bucket against the smaller Rashad McCants at [1st, 1:40] to give the Clips a 33-11 lead.
Back from the flu, Chris Kaman appears completely healthy tonight — but it’s his decision-making I like, and his best move of the night comes against another ill-advised Kings switch:
- [1st, 3:26] The Clips get into their offense early with Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman on the right side against Bobby Jackson/Spencer Hawes. Kaman slips the screen, then dives hard away from Hawes, giving the Kings no option but to switch. With Jackson now guarding the big man in the post, Gordon quickly gets the ball over to Kaman. When you get a mismatch like this one, you can’t futz around and wait for a rotation or a recovery. Kaman doesn’t. One quick up-fake, then Kaman puts it on the deck with his left, stomps his way through the lane, then elevates off his right with a whirling spin move that gets him all the way to the rim for a gentle lay-in. It’s a heady, opportunistic play by Kaman — both the off-the-ball movement to get himself the mismatch, and the alacrity with which he exploits it.
Chris has the agility and the handle to do this routinely.
How badly does Mike Taylor want to be on the court? He checks in with the scorer’s table at [1st, 3:01] to spell Baron Davis following a Sacramento turnover. Just as Taylor steps onto the court and starts to head over to the ball beneath the Kings’ basket, the official whistles for a timeout. Taylor stops in his tracks, flails his arms and spins back around as if he’s being hassled: How can you call timeout when there’s basketball to be played?!
At [2nd, 8:05], the Sacramento broadcast team of Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds shower Taylor with ohhs and ahhhs: The Clips run the break and get the ball ahead to Marcus Camby at the arc. Taylor is trailing. After he picks up a shovel pass from Camby, Taylor dashes into the lane, sidesteps one defender with a spin, hops as he changes direction, stops, elevates, twists, then finishes. “How on earth do you do that and not break your ankles?” Napear says.
I imagine this is one of Sacramento’s worst games of the season, but there’s a lot to like in their young big men. Though the shots didn’t fall for him on a miserable 4-18 night from the field, Spencer Hawes has developed a legitimate game in the high post. He seems far more confident facilitating offense from there [1st, 7:12], than he did even a few months ago. Jason Thompson is going to be inordinately useful in another season or two. He gets whistled for two early fouls, and the second is a tough call on a strong defensive stand in the post [1st, 6:57]. Jerry Reynolds makes the point that Thompson seems to be coping with the reality that NBA officials are going to call cheap stuff on him for a while. That’s part of the mental hazing the pro game administers to young bigs. The ones who are able to carve out careers for themselves realize that, and continue to trust their games. Thompson will get there. If Sacramento were blessed with Ricky Rubio in the upcoming draft, you can imagine a starting lineup down the road of Rubio-Martin-SF [I love Garcia's game, and he can guard opposing 3s, though he might be better suited to the SG and, therefore, the first wing off the bench]-Thompson-Hawes that could win basketball games.