When you consider the Clippers’ shot selection, early foul trouble and that they’re woefully undermanned, the first half goes about as well it can. The wrong guys take the wrong shots for much of the half, and Denver amasses a trove of free throw attempts. Yet the Clips protect the basketball and force the Nuggets into enough bad shots of their own to go into the half with a one-point lead. Offensively, Chris Kaman takes advantage of Denver’s decision to confront him with man-to-man coverage. He goes 6-for-10 from the floor, though the Nuggets keep him off the line. Apart from that, the Clippers get lucky that a few of their long 2-pointers fall.
Defensively, the Clips do alright. They’re the recipient of some bad decisions by Denver and some wide open misses (i.e. J.R. Smith’s 3PA at 2nd, 11:20), but there are also a sprinkling of good defensive possessions. Mardy Collins does some decent work on Carmelo Anthony during the possession that follows the blown rotation on Smith. A minute or so later, Collins plugs the passing lane on a Denver break and flips the transition opportunity in the Clippers’ favor. The sequence ends with Smith taking Chris Andersen off the dribble for an easy layup:
A commenter in the ESPN Live Daily Dime pleaded with me to table my Rhino Praise-athon (his language not mine), but there’s no denying that Smith has given the Clippers something they haven’t had in a very long time — a big man who can come off the bench and score one-on-one. He’s not perfect. To wit, there were a couple of times Nene’s superior length gave Smith trouble defensively, but Smith has been crucial to the improved play by the second unit. Tonight, despite everything else, the backups do fine.
The carnage begins in the third quarter, as Denver scores on 10 of its first 11 possessions, racking up 23 points over the first 5:21 of the period. Chauncey Billups accounts for 10 of those 23 points:
- A pair of free throws when he beats Baron Davis off a high screen, then seals a recovering Baron off along the baseline.
- Two pull-up 3PMs in transition.
- Another trip to the line when he gets a pindown courtesy of Arron Afflalo and draws contact on Marcus Camby on the switch.
But things truly begin to unravel when Ricky Davis floats aimlessly into the middle of the floor to do whatever it is Ricky Davis allegedly does when he decides to straddle the help line, as if his presence beneath the hoop is going to deter Denver from continuing to attack the Clippers inside:
Ricky does very little to help the Clippers tonight. His catalog of shot attempts is atrocious — a bevy of long jumpers many of the them early in the shot clock without even a glance to see if the Clippers have anything else on the floor. Is Ricky Davis under the impression that the Denver Nuggets won’t yield him 18-footers later in the shot clock cycle? Does he believe that Chris Kaman down low isn’t a better place to initiate the offense on a given possession — a strategy that might still afford him his precious shot attempts two feet inside the arc and, in fact, offer him an even better look if he fades to a spot behind Kaman for a kickout, a la Eric Gordon?
Here’s an example of the Clippers’ lackluster halfcourt strategy in the third quarter. Denver has decided to become more aggressive on Kaman. On this possession with Denver leading by 13 at the 5:21 mark of the third quarter, the Nuggets trap him off the right block. Does any Clipper come to Kaman’s aid to alleviate the pressure?
That the answer is no is ironic, given how eager the Clippers are to shoot jump shots from the perimeter. Here’s a catch-and-shoot opportunity for someone — anyone — who’s willing to dart back over to the ball side. Kaman shares some culpability, but to abandon your big man in that situation demonstrates a complete disengagement from what’s happening on the court. Billups PU3IT off the turnover stretches the Denver lead to 16 and effectively buries the Clippers.
The Clippers are 9-1 with the Baron-Gordon-Butler-Camby-Kaman starting lineup, but 10-22 when that unit isn’t intact, and 3-7 without EJ. The Clippers’ perimeter of Baron Davis, Ricky Davis, Butler and Thornton combine to shoot 8 of 36 from the floor. Many of those selfish attempts are ill-advised, early in the shot clock and without an awareness of what’s available on the floor. Gordon’s absence certainly makes the halfcourt game tougher, but the Clippers never give themselves a chance.