The first two 3-pointers in Cleveland’s record-setting first quarter, during which they drained 11 of 13 from beyond the arc, come in identical fashion:
Shaquille O’Neal has DeAndre Jordan posted up on the left block. The Clippers send help in the form of one of their guards — Eric Gordon on the first (1st, 8:05), Baron Davis on the second (1st, 7:36). Once the double-team arrives, O’Neal kicks the ball out — to Anthony Parker on the first, then to Boobie Gibson on the second. These shooters have found some open space along the arc behind the stretched Clippers’ defense. In both instances, better communication between Gordon and Davis might have given the Clippers a chance to close out more aggressively.
The Cavs drain 3s on their next five possessions:
- (1st, 6:59) LeBron James chases a loose ball all the way to the right corner. In one motion, collects the rock, turns and launches an off-balanced shot with :14 still remaining on the shot clock.
- (1st, 6:37) Gibson gets a feed in a transition from James on a draw-and-kick for a PU3IT. It’s hard to fault the Clippers’ defense on the break too much. With James driving down the gut of the court, DeAndre Jordan assume his spot in the lane, while Gordon backpedals to stay in front of James and Rasual Butler picks up J.J. Hickson, who’s running toward the rim. In motion, James snaps the pass with his right hand. It hits Gibson directly in the hands just as he steps up to the line — perfect spot and perfect timing. James’ assist numbers and unselfishness are widely (and rightly) praised. What’s less spoken of is the uncanny precision of his passes.
- (1st, 5:48) A contested 27-foot hurl by James with Butler contesting. To give you an idea, I was watching the game with a Cavs partisan who, prior to the attempt, yelled at the screen, “Don’t take that!”
- (1st, 5:30) James PU3IT from 26 feet.
- (1st, 4:48) Hickson dishes the ball over to James, who’s about 30 feet from the basket. Butler defends James precisely where he should — his front foot straddling the arc. Butler offers James enough room to shoot at 30, but plays far enough off him to challenge him off the dribble (or at least try) or close quickly on any jumper from 25-28 feet. James opts for a 30-foot attempts and it falls.
That’s 21 points on seven 3-pointers on consecutive possessions. The Cavs lead 30-11, and it gets worse from there. A few minutes later, Cleveland strings together 14 points on its five final possessions of the period — four of them resulting in 3-pointers:
- (1st, 2:26) Ricky Davis gets caught drifting in no-man’s land — a place he finds himself all too often. With plenty of room, Jawad Williams gets into the act, nailing his first shot of the game.
- (1st, 1:47) Ricky strikes again. He never follows Jamario Moon to the right corner, which sets up Moon for an easy look.
- (1st, 0:47) Al Thornton is considerably more attentive than Ricky Davis was. Moon is a 32 percent shooter from 3-point range, and Thornton gives him just enough room, but remains in close enough proximity to challenge the shot. Doesn’t matter. Moon drains the Cavs’ 10th 3-pointer of the first quarter.
- (1st, 0:05) Final possession of the quarter for Cleveland. Cavs go 1-4 flat, and James waves off any potential high screens from teammates. Faced up against Baron Davis, who confronts James in prime defensive position, James steps back from 30 feet and knocks down a bomb that ties the NBA record for most 3-pointers in a quarter.
After that outlandish 3 by James to cap off the period, the Cavs lead 46-20. The Clippers, who enter the game the 4th-ranked defense in the League guarding the line, get absolutely blitzed. 11-for-13 is astounding and you won’t find that kind of accuracy in most shootaround settings.
It’s hard to sugarcoat this loss, but there are some positive morsels to collect from the final three quarters of a game whose degree of difficulty (at Cleveland) is arguably the highest on the schedule.
Some things to feel okay-to-good about headed to Chicago
- The Clippers put up a fight, even when they’re down 30. Although this road trip has offered some nightmarish flashbacks to last season (11.27.10 at New Jersey; first half, 11.29.10 at Minnesota), the Clippers grit their teeth on Sunday and show a lot of life, particularly coming out of the locker room to begin the second half. They tighten the perimeter defense and are far more careful deploying double-team on O’Neal, keeping a watchful eye on potential recipients of kickouts. As a result, the Clips get stops on seven consecutive possessions, allowing them to build a 12-0 run to start the half.
- The false debate in the Clippers’ camp between set and free-flowing offenses aside (more on this tomorrow at ESPN Los Angeles), both camps gets precisely what they want offensively during this stretch. The Clippers score on six of seven possessions before Cleveland calls a timeout to regroup. On each of those six scores, the Clippers use no more than 11 seconds of the shot clock. And each of the buckets occur either in transition or in early offense situations. How come? Defensive stops (see above).
- The Clippers are now 0-6 without Chris Kaman. NBA teams should be able to compensate for injuries (see Portland, Houston), but the Clippers have a particular problem that compounds Kaman’s absence. Neither Gordon, Butler or Camby have serious post games. Only Davis and Craig Smith can do much of anything down on the block, which limits the Clippers’ options in the halfcourt. If Kaman can’t go Tuesday night against Chicago, I’d take my chances with Smith against Taj Gibson at the 4. Their rebounding rates are comparable, and Smith would give the Clips a strong one-on-one option down low to challenge the Bulls.
- Baron Davis has asserted himself in an active leadership position that’s every bit as perceptible during these losses as it was during the feel-good wins earlier in the month. Whatever reputation for disinterest he’s acquired over the course of his career, you couldn’t find any trace of that in a game where the Clips were running huge deficits of 25-30 points for long stretches. A guy with a $65 million contract doesn’t deserve wholesale praise for that, but we can acknowledge it just the same.
- Gordon won’t put Sunday’s box score in his scrapbook, but he looks appreciably better, even with the 5-for-16 line from the field. There’s an especially encouraging sequence at the beginning of the fourth quarter. In transition, he spots up on the right side just behind the arc where he gets the dish from Mardy Collins (4th, 9:54). Gordon’s 3-ball hits off the back iron, and now Cleveland has an opportunity to run out on a 2-on-1 break. Gibson races the ball up the far sideline, but Gordon has quickly backpedaled to get himself between Gibson and James, who’s filling the near lane. As Gibson brings the ball up from his dribble to sling a cross-court pass to James, Gordon stuffs him. The ball kicks off Gibson and lands out of bounce, killing what seems like an easy Cleveland break. Rather than pout after a missed shot (something we saw a bit of in Minnesota), Gordon makes up the points on the defensive end. Although he hasn’t returned to pre-toe form, Gordon looks much more like himself Sunday — in control, smarter shot selection (once he abandons that floater he went to early on a couple of occasions), energized defense (even when he’s overmatched against James 1-on-1).
- Another notch for DeAndre Jordan. Ideally, the turnover rate should come in below 20, and headed to 15 (it’s 22.9 on Sunday), but he bodies up respectably against one the game’s iconic big men. His 13 boards help the Clippers keep the rebounding battle essentially even (advantage Clippers when you consider the disparity in missed shots on the respective ends of the floor), and stays out of foul trouble. These are important games for Jordan. Though I’d prefer to have seen Smith out there against Hickson, the investment in DJ probably has some long-term value that starting Rhino wouldn’t offer.