We’re going waaaaayyyyyy back for this one — October 30th, 2008 to be exact. Just one day after the Clippers lost to the Lakers by 38 points to start the 2008-09 season. The two will ironically meet up again on opening night this season, but I have a feeling the result will be much different.
This fantastic, in-depth breakdown by the ClipperBlog Godfather, Kevin Arnovitz, features play-by-play descriptions of what the Mike Dunleavy-led Clippers ran along with some commentary. It’s a must-read for basketball nerds.
During his tenure as the Clippers’ head coach, Mike Dunleavy has always preferred a more controlled offense. To a large extent that’s due to his natural inclinations, but it’s also been a function of the Clips’ personnel. There wasn’t a member of the Cassell-Mobley-Maggette/Ross-Brand-Kaman core of 2005-2006 that didn’t benefit in some fashion from a set-oriented offense — be it the two-man game of Cassell and Brand, or the iso drives for Maggette. The Clippers short-lived success was due, in large part, to the fact that all the notables on the roster were oriented toward this style of play. But as I mentioned in the wrapup post last night, this Clipper team is a strange amalgamation of styles.
Mike Dunleavy is probably more aware of this reality than anyone and it’s his job to sculpt the team’s attributes — whatever they are — into something coherent. That’s a process that will take time, given the team’s lack of familiarity with one another, to say nothing of the coach’s lack of familiarity with his roster. As a Clipper fan, watching this process will be extremely frustrating, precisely because it will demand a lot of trial-and-error. But as a basketball fan, it will be fascinating to watch.
Keeping in mind that Marcus Camby wasn’t on the floor and that his absence is considerable, what can we glean from last night’s game? Let’s take a look at what Dunleavy ran to start the season:
[1st, 11:35] The new Clippers begin their season with a spread floor, then Tim Thomas moving into position for what looks like some elbow action just in front of Baron Davis. Baron dishes the ball to Kaman, who is at the top of the perimeter, then dives to the hole. But when Kaman realizes that Andrew Bynum is 15 feet away from him patrolling the paint and he’s got a direct line to the hoop, Kaman wisely puts the ball on the floor and drives hard to the hole — which is what you’d want him to do. Only problem: Bynum recovers nicely and Kobe leaves Mobley in the right corner to help. If Kaman had peripheral vision, he’d dish it to Mobley for the uncontested wide open 3PA — but instead he leans into the double-team and gets stuffed. This is a broken play — again, a good opportunity for Chris to take advantage of his quicks — but he ultimately fell victim to his court vision…or lack thereof.
[1st, 11:05] Probably not what Dunleavy has in mind, but something he’s going to have to live with unless he’s prepared to wage all-out war with his best player. Davis comes down, crosses over, steps back, and launches a contested 25-footer against Derek Fisher. The ball clanks off the rim out of bounds.
[1st, 10:35] Floppy Action. Mobley crosses underneath and pops to the far wing, while Davis delivers the ball to Thomas on the perimeter. Thomas has always been able to drive left with proficiency, and here he handles Pau Gasol off the dribble with ease. Radmanovic steps in to help, but TT is already at the rim. FGM
[1st, 10:00] This looks like the same set that started the game. Only this time Bynum is up top to guard Kaman when Davis dishes the ball off to CK and makes his dive past a TT elbow screen. Gasol isn’t fooled, and TT isn’t able to get any space for himself when he receives the ball up along the arc from Kaman. It’s worth mentioning that the Lakers have defended the S/R to perfection during their first two games. It’s impressive. So we move into the second phase of the set. Kaman sets a nice elbow pin-down for Baron Davis, who pops back out. Fisher fights through it, and recovers somewhat – but Davis has already taken a hard dribble up the gut of the lane. When the Lakers converge on him in the paint, Davis kicks it out to TT, who gets a momentary look from the arc at :10. He passes up the shot and, instead, drives left. Radmanovic stays with him, so TT delivers a skip pass out to Mobley at :06. Mobley drives, almost gets stripped, regains his footing, but puts up an awful, off-balanced shot at :02.TT collects the garbage and puts it up and in.Overall, the Clippers timing and execution left a lot to be desired.
[1st, 9:12] This is a basic post-up for Mobley off the right post against Kobe Bryant. Bryant is far too active for Mobley to work anything meaningful, so Cat kicks it back out to Davis, who launches it from…let’s call it 26. No good. Did the Clips have anything else? Other than :11 seconds, nothing.
[1st, 8:41] The Clippers in a 3-on-2 transition. It goes to Thomas, who’s the trailer on the play. His dunk draws the back of the iron, but he’s fouled. Thomas misses both and finishes an abysmal 2-8 from the line on the night.
[1st, 8:22] Tough to tell because KTLA is tight on Radmanovic following his 3PM as the Clips get set up, but it looks like floppy action with Thornton crossing underneath to collect the ball from Davis on the left wing. Radmanovic — who has looked solid defensively at the outset — gives Al nothing. Al wisely returns the ball to Davis, and reposts. Credit Baron for being patient here. He’s going to need Thornton this season and once Al reports against Vlad, Baron dumps it back into him. Unfortunately, Al still has nothing against Vlad’s length. The Lakers almost appear as if they’re in a 2-3. Whatever the case, Gasol has allowed Thomas to float up to the top of the arc unfettered. Al finds TT, who nails the uncontested 3PA. Good recognition.
That’s the last set before Skinner subs in for Thomas.
In the second, the Clips bench hangs tough until about 8:00 when the Lakers go 4-4 on four consecutive possessions for a 9-0 run. At that point, Dunleavy promptly reinserts the starters [minus Thornton, plus Ricky Davis…
[2nd, 6:42] This isn’t a familiar set. Looks like a pin-down to free up Mobley. B. Davis kicks the ball over to Mobley, then dives. The Clippers appear truly lost. Kaman is wrestling with Bynum, to no effect. Davis can’t free himself from Farmar. Ricky Davis is bothered by Ariza. How bad is the rigor mortis?The ball never actually cross the arc through the entirety of the possession.
That’s how badly the Clippers are struggling against the Lakers defense. B. Davis has to settle for a 27-footer with the shot clock expiring. The Clippers get lucky when TT collects the rebound — though, again, he misses a pair at the stripe.
[2nd, 5:45] This doesn’t look like much as the ball works its way around the perimeter, with Mobley in the left corner and Kaman on the right block. But Cat makes this play with an effective cross-screen that frees up Kaman for a nice feed from Thomas directly underneath the hoop on the left side. Kaman gets fouled, could probably have made the shot — but he put it on the floor first and, as a result, doesn’t earn a trip to the line. On the inbounds — well, it’s about freakin’ time — “LA-1.” They’re calling Davis’ number for an elbow isolation. Davis is one of the best post-up guards in the league and, I suspect, this will be part of Dunleavy’s bargain with Baron. Dunleavy likes to post his guards, and Davis likes the ball, which makes this play logical common ground between the two men. Baron drives left past Farmar, misses the layup, but gets the rebound, falls to the ground and calls a twenty. Though Davis misses the layup, this is progress.Out of the timeout, there’s more guard post play, this time for Cat. The Lakers are vicious — they essentially trap Cat in the corner. He manages to break free and works the ball up top. The ball goes into TT, who has good position against Gasol. TT spin toward the paint and gets a good short shot that just misses.
It’s downhill from here, as the next two possessions result in misses beyond 25 feet. The only redeemable set comes courtesy of Brian Skinner, who sets a nice down screen that allows Mobley to pop to the elbow to collect a pass from Davis and drive to the hole for a nice finger-roll. Skinner is a nice fundamental player. He’ll be useful.
Overall, the game is a dispiriting exercise in bad timing and imprecision. The silver lining is that you wouldn’t expect a team that’s never played a game together, much less conducted a full-contact practice to compete against an inspired defensive squad. The mere fact that the Clippers stayed in the game for 16 minutes, in retrospect, is miraculous.
Defensively, the Clippers badly need Camby’s ability to save them late in possessions. The Clippers fought hard in man-to-man situations, but the rotations were atrocious, and once the ball defender was beaten, nobody knew how to initiate the help. It was like watching the beginnings of a street riot at the point when the violence becomes inevitable.
Though he’s not a scorer, Camby will offer Dunleavy more flexibility in the offense. For one, he can pass the ball, and second, he can draw defenders to a spot of Dunleavy’s choosing. The Lakers last night were able to be wherever they wanted to be. But a guy of Camby’s size and skill set — though not infinite — demands accountability from the defense. Will that make all the difference? Doubtful. But it’ll help.
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