With about 5:30 left in the fourth quarter, the Clippers held a three point lead.
Here's how it got away:
- Corey Maggette, who opted out of Duke before they ran a passing drill, holds the ball on the left wing, defended by Marion. Rather than kick it back out to Livingston, who is wide open at the top of the circle with only Nash between him and the basket, Maggette forces an entry pass toward EB and the ball ends up in the hands of the Matrix.
Corey - never one to exercise damage control - then commits a frustration foul, though PHX is already in the bonus.
After the official timeout, Marion sinks the first, then misses the second. But because EB feels a pressing need to jump the gun to ensure a more complete box out on...Raja Bell...we'll do it again.
Three-to-make-two. Marion does.
Clips 79, PHX 78
- Unsettling development on the next possession if you're a Clipper fan. Shaun and Elton run a high S/R at the top of the circle. Thomas and Nash actually trap Shaun, leaving EB wide open at 15. Does Elton take the shot?
No. And if there is one harbinger of things to come, this is it. Not the turnovers, or the foul calls on the other end...it's EB passing up open face-up 15 footers.
Fortunately, on this possession it doesn't cost the Clips. Elton finds Corey in close, one-on-one against Marion. Maggette spins baseline and lays it in beautifully.
Clips 81, PHX 78
- The Clippers run a terrific defensive set on the next possession - a microcosm of the good defense they've played all night. The Suns start with Nash running the high screen drag for Thomas. For good measure, Marion runs a second screen for Nash at the elbow to give PHX a second option on the play.
When Thomas makes his cut, he's immediately picked up by both EB and Vlad. And once the Clips sense that they've got Thomas boxed in down low, they switch Vlad onto Nash. With no room to work amongst the trees and with Thomas unreachable, Nash quickly and instinctively goes to his third option on the play - Marion at the baseline having just rolled off the screen.
But, again, Vlad is on top of it, and his long 6'10-ness make the shot nearly impossible for Marion - so the Suns reset again.
Who do these guys think they are all of the sudden? The Memphis Grizzlies?
Barbosa now has it way up top. The Suns run another high S/R, again with Thomas. Again, the Clips double the ball, leaving Thomas with some room on the perimeter. Barbosa penetrates into the lane where he's met by three Clippers, then does a Nashish in-the-air pass out to his mentor open on the arc. Nash dribbles the ball back up top...and here's where PHX is so damned good -
While you can tell that it was clearly not Nash's preferred option on the play, he recognizes the mismatch with Thomas getting solid position on Mobley on the mid-post.
Great entry pass by Nash; some nice help for Mobley from Vlad on Thomas - but TT hits the freaky jumper anyway.
Clips 81, PHX 80
- The Clippers run the exact same set they ran the last time down, only this time when EB receives the pass, he dribble in for a slightly closer look, then hits.
Clips 83, PHX 80
- Weird loose-ball foul situation. Concurrent to the EB jumper, Vlad commits a loose ball foul and Raja Bell hit his two at the stripe.
Clips 83, PHX 82
- The next trip downcourt for the Clippers is the kind of unspeakable possession you just can't afford in the waning minutes of a 1 point game in a pivotal Game 3. Shaun and Elton run the high S/R again, but PHX decides to double EB and let Shaun have the 22-footer with :15 left on the clock if he wants it.
Instead of exercising a little patience, Shaun heaves that brick - a shot so ugly that it generates a long rebound that's tipped out by Vlad for the Clippers to reset.
Another Livingston-Brand high S/R, but Brand's on-ball screen is uncharacteristically lazy, almost as if EB isn't sold on the play.
So Shaun penetrates down the middle of the lane which drawn Marion away from Maggette on the arc. Recognizing this, Livingston kicks it out to Corey for a catch-and-shoot. It's a miss, but the shot is a good look and Corey has been extremely effective in that context.
And that's the thing with Corey - if nothing is materializing on the strong-side and you sense that your defender is going to get drawn into a double-team, then there's absolutely nothing wrong with camping out on the arc waiting to receive the catch-and-shoot.
It's all about context.
- Nothing you don't expect from PHX in the final moments - a drag S/R at the elbow for Marion. Superb rotation from Cat, so Marion kicks it out to Bell and now it's the Phoenix Suns carousel - around the perimeter until the they find an open Barbosa in the right corner. Brand was slow on the rotation, but Barbosa misses.
- Shaun starts on the left side and sees that Mobley is licking his chops to post up Barbosa. Livingston, being guarded by Nash runs behind the Mobley-Barbosa tug fest, and when Shaun turns the corner, Nash falls and Shaun drives in for an uncontested layup.
Clips 85, PHX 82
- Again, nothing fancy, merely the sort of scheme that PHX has been running to perfection all year - using their speedy penetraters to draw perimeter defenders into the paint, thereby leaving other guys on the arc wide open. That's what happens here when Barbosa drives and draws the double-team from Brand who, when he (sorta) collapses on Barbosa, gives Shaun Marion carte blanche over in the right corner.
Clips 85, PHX 85
- An old-fashioned give ‘n' go. Livingston, being guarded by the smaller, less agile Nash, hands it off to Elton, who then delivers a boffo bounce pass to Livingston as he drives to the rim. Shaun gets fouled and hits 1 of 2:
Clips 86, PHX 85
- After the Livingston miss, there's a scramble for the loose ball and Livingston gets called for a foul.
Traditionally, I don't complain about officiating, but I've watched this sequence five times now and can not find the foul. Anywhere. Not on boat. Not with a goat.
And now I hate Steve Nash for his freedom. With the Suns in the penalty, he goes to the line and hits 2.
PHX 87, Clips 86
- Quite possibly the possession that doomed the Clippers. There's very little to paint here. It's a terrific play call - a waaay high S/R for Vlad along the arc. If it works, one of several things will happen (a) The Suns will double the ball, leaving Vlad open for a 3. (b) The Suns will switch, leaving Vlad with the privilege of shooting over Steve Nash. (c) The Suns will try to trap Vlad, which means Shaun can cut to the basket or spring to a favorite spot to receive the ball back from Vlad who, with his size, should have little trouble doing that.
What happened? Vlad was the wide receiver who started running before he had possession of the ball. Ugly, ugly turnover as the easy pass by Livingston clanks off Vlad's paws and onto the scorer's table.
- Another great defensive possession by the Clippers. They defend the high S/R with Thomas beautifully, but when Nash deliberates, then revs up his engine for the dribble-penetration, there's a small line to Thomas; Nash finds that lane, threads the needle with a bounce pass and Thomas shoots. Vlad gets a piece of Thomas's elbow and TT hit two foul shots.
PHX 89, Clips 86
- While Livingston holds it up top, the Clippers have Vlad run a screen for EB at the elbow. EB collects the ball, then goes to work against Thomas. But when Elton goes up for the shot, Diaw blocks it from behind.
PHX is so much more energized defensively that Clipperblog feels like he's living in a parallel basketball universe.
- For a team with a stellar reputation of being creative, these guys run the same play each time downcourt. High drag S/R for Thomas. Again, the Clippers do a nice job: They trap Nash off the screen, and rotate Mobley up from the left corner to deal with Thomas. Thomas thinks about the 3, but with Elton closing now, TT decides to take his guys off the dribble. EB stays with him and blocks the shot.
- After a timeout, Dunleavy reinserts Cassell into the lineup. A lot of Clipper fans are lamenting the decision to keep Cassell out as long as he did. I don't have that much of a problem with it. We've already established that, with Sam on the floor, the Clips can't really operate a sound defensive scheme when Barbosa and Nash are both in the game. Cassell's shot was clearly off last night and he wasn't doing anything offensively. And Livingston has been making life miserable for D'Antoni because Suns basketball works only if you can exploit those mismatches. So when the Clops have a 6'7" point guard on the floor who can guard pretty much anyone on the PHX roster, you neutralize that advantage. For the record, Sam played 33 minutes last night - behind only Brand and Mobley and one fewer than Kaman.
Cassell to Brand in the post, then back out to Cassell from beyond the arc. Airball.
- This possession bothered the hell out of me - not because Marion drove the rim, then converted the three-point play, but because Kaman was left out on the perimeter one-on-one against the Matrix in the first place.
When you look at it in freeze frame, it makes absolutely no sense - the defense is asking Kaman to fly from LAX to Seattle by changing planes in Atlanta. Here's what I mean: Kaman is the Tree Guy when Nash dribbles into the paint. Once Nash kicks it waaaay out to Marion on the perimeter, who's the most sensible person to rotate? How about Brand? Or how about Mobley who is comparatively close by? Marion takes Kaman off the dribble and gets to the hole at the speed of light. Kaman fouls out here.
Marion hits the free throw.
PHX 92, Clips 86
- The Clippers couldn't ask for a better 3.1 seconds in this situation. Cassell inbounds to Brand on the low block, with Thomas on him. Despite help from Diaw, the Suns can do nothing. Elton sinks the shot and one.
PHX 92, Clips 89
- PHX gets nothing off the Nash-Diaw S/R because Mobley fights through it like Oliver Miller at a buffet line. The only place Nash can go is cross-court to Thomas.
This is why it's so vital to push the ballhandler - particularly a Nash - into a corner (just ask the Lakers), because then the rotation doesn't have to work as hard. Because when Nash's court becomes much smaller, there's less space for your team to defend.
Thomas clanks the 16-footer. And Diaw gets called for a loose ball foul.
- Quinton Ross sinks both free throws.
PHX 92, Clips 91
- 28.4 seconds left now with Nash bringing it up. PHX goes first to the Nash-Diaw S/R, which leaves Maggette on Nash after the switch. At 8.9, Nash swing sit over to Bell on the left wing. Bell returns the ball to Nash, who then takes a slightly off-balanced, but effective, Maggette off the dribble. With time expiring on the shot clock, the MVP throws up a high-arcing rainbow and it goes.
PHX 94, Clips 91
- The Clippers have 3.6 to work with. Maggette will inbound. Four Clippers, four screens - none of which are actually put to use, but that's not unusual. Ultimately, Vlad steps back from Thomas and misses the three.