We speak abstractly about the razor thin margin between winning and losing in basketball, but rarely do we get such a lucid illustration. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a game in which a team has been resuscitated the way the Clippers are Saturday evening.
With the game tied 99-99 in regulation and 0:11.1 remaining, the Sixers have possession:
Most hardcore basketball fans are programmed with the ability to instinctively determine the legality of a buzzer-beater most of the time. Watching it initially, I thought Iguodala hit it. Did you?
On second review, I have no idea. If the ball is still on Iguodala’s fingers, it’s barely grazing the hair on his knuckles.
UPDATE: NBA.com offers a better look (about the 1:29 mark of the reel), and the ball appears to still be in Iguodala’s hands:
The Sixers execute poorly in overtime, while the Clippers put together a string of solid offensive possessions. Baron attacks, the Sixers fall asleep when they let an unmanned Rasual Butler set up early along the right side of the arc, the Clips pick up a bucket in transition and Butler manages to create something off the dribble.
Defensively for the Clips, Maureesse Speights is less comfortable against Al Thornton than Rasual Butler. Al’s got more muscle to contend with Speights, who likes to bully smaller defenders to get himself inside. That adjustment helps the Clippers in OT, as does their good pick-and-roll defense (on one possession, they blanket both a Green/Brand S/R up top and an Iguodala/Speights S/R counter on the side.
Overtime is almost anticlimactic without discounting the really important development: The Clippers win a game they badly needed.
Some bigger themes of the night:
Keeping Kaman on the floor with five fouls
My position is fairly dogmatic on this issue. Lifting productive players with two fouls in the first quarter is ill-advised, as is sitting them with five midway through the fourth quarter. It’s unwise not to maximize that player’s number of possessions, and yanking him doesn’t do that. On the possessions between Chris’ 5th and 6th fouls, the Clippers play the Sixers even. They convert two field goals on consecutive possessions when Kaman delivers pinpoint passes – the first to Thornton against a swarming double team, the second to Telfair when Chris is one-on-one against Elton Brand. On the other end, the Sixers score on a contested, unstable 20-footer by Iguodala and, of course, when Speights goes to the stripe when he draws Chris’ 6th.
The Sixers’ mismatches
Thad Young is the kind of 4 who will give the Clippers fits this season with Camby and Kaman as the starting frontcourt. Both are decent defenders, but neither has the athleticism to defend a player like Young who is so dynamic from the perimeter. This is where the Clips miss Blake Griffin, who’d be a natural cover to combat Young’s versatility. Young keeps the Sixers in the game through much of the first quarter. Mike Dunleavy adjusts by sending in Mardy Collins to work on the defensive end against Thad Young, and to Collins’ credit, he does an effective job keeping Young in check. Collins is useful in a limited defensive capacity. On the other end, though, posting Mardy Collins doesn’t strike me as the best way to bust the Sixers’ zone, but that’s the kind of offense you see from the Clippers in the latter minutes of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter once Kaman fouls out, the Clippers don’t have an answer for Maurreese Speights, who exploits a mismatch against Rasual Butler in the Clippers’ zone. Sometimes there’s value in the zone to protect a defense against a guy like Speights when you don’t have a natural defender who can match up, but when that zone features Butler who, albeit a sound perimeter defender, doesn’t have the bulk to deal with Speights on the block, it doesn’t give you the best chance to win. Speights generates five points over possessions inside of two minutes against an undersized Butler.
Al Thornton’s late fourth quarter
In addition to the layup on the pass out by Kaman, Thornton muscles his way to the hoop for the Clippers’ two most important buckets of the night. On both possessions, the Clippers trail by two. The first comes on a drive from the left wing against Thad Young. Al goes middle and unleashes a running right-handed hook. The second occurs when Al beats on the league’s best one-on-one perimeter defenders with a left-handed baseline drive. makes a strong stand on the drive, but Thornton bursts to the hoop and hits a high-degree-of-difficulty shot high off the glass.
The parallels to the New York game are unsettling, and there are sequences in the second half when the Clippers are unable to get a decent look, most of those instances their own fault. Eric is uncharacteristically impatient, Mardy Collins plays an unnecessarily central role in the half-court offense, and Baron tries to create when there’s better stuff available on the weak side. And because they’re not getting stops, the Clips aren’t able to generate more than two fast break points in the second half, zero in the fourth quarter.
Chris Kaman vs. Elton Brand
I don’t generally get caught up in meta narratives, but watching Chris Kaman and Elton Brand face off mano a mano was fascinating, particularly in the tight stages of the fourth quarter. The two were playing an informal game one-on-one when Brand ruptured his Achilles tendon in August 2007, which adds a level of curiosity to the match-up.
In the first half, Kaman wins the battle. His best move comes at [2nd, 6:23] when he backs Elton in with his right shoulder, then spins baseline for an soft right-handed hook. Elton gets things started in the third quarter when he takes Chris off the dribble from the top of the circle, spins counterclockwise, then elevates for a jumper over Chris that falls through. Chris matches with the identical right shoulder/right hook from the first half. He follows by draining an open jumper from 18 feet when Elton gets crossed up on a Butler/Kaman angle S/R. Elton gets his say: He drains a face-up jumper from the right side (!) the next trip down.
Watching Elton against the Clips this season doesn’t induce the same emotion from me that it did last season. My visceral feelings about him have diminished. He’s certainly not just another guy out there, but I find myself more able to experience him apart from his legacy with the Clippers, the possessions against Kaman the possible exception.