I realize there's comfort and even an allure in framing losses like these in the absurdities of sports mythology, that it's easy to attribute dramatic failures like tonight's Game Five loss to cheap shit like curses and goats and bad trades and the historic burden of loserdom. 

But basketball games are won and lost by players, teams, execution and precision - not by embroidered laundry or religious superstition or the absence of mystique or any crap like that.  Call me an empirical twat, but, hey, that's just me. 

The score of Game Five was 101-101 entering the first overtime period.  After Radmanovic controlled the tip, the first overtime broke down like this:

  • Nothing fancy here.  Brand is able to get position on Thomas on middle side post.  Elton spins right, turns and hits the 14-footer.  It's interesting to note that the Suns send no help.

    Clippers 103, PHX 101 (4:45)

  • After an aborted Nash-Marion S/R, Barbosa gets it up top, but is unable to generate anything against Mobley.  He resets, gets a high screen from Marion - but again, the Clippers are there on the switch.  The last resort for the Suns is to let Nash start from way up top, drive and kick it out to Marion for a contested 16-footer.  Airball.  But the rock ends up in the hands of TT, who lays it up at the shot clock buzzer.

    Clippers 103, PHX 103 (4:18)

  • Please see above.  8-footer this time. 

    Clippers 105, PHX 103 (3:58)

  • PHX gets nothing off the Nash-Marion S/R on the left wing.  The ball makes its way around the perimeter, which the Clippers hold tightly.  It comes back to Nash, who gets the switch he wants via a TT screen - Vlad Radmanovic.  Nash has started using the Great Law of Basketball Reciprocity just as the Clips are using it against him and Barbosa in the post on the other end.  Nash takes Vlad off the dribble, and when Elton hedges between Marion on the perimeter and the driving Nash, the MVP kicks it out to the Matrix for a 3PA.  Miss.

  • This time, EB and Sam try to run a high screen, but then realize, "wait a minute, how is it helping us to have a gritty Bell on Elton, when Elton has been abusing TT all night?"  So Sam drives baseline, gets caught under the basket, has hit shot blocked by...the rim - but Mobley recovers it.  Mobley then misses the left-handed chippy in the lane.

    Mobley has absolutely no touch tonight - through no lack of effort.  The informal poll in my viewing party has Mobley banished to a suite at the Phoenician -- far, far away from USAC. But there's a reason he's on the floor down the stretch; he's emerged as the Clips' second most competent perimeter defender and one of the only guards on the team that can set a reasonably effective screen.  Your offense runs much more fluidly if your backcourt people can not only run around screens, but actually set them.  How do you think Byron Scott or Joe Dumars made a living? 

    But, yeah, your offense runs much more fluidly if your shooting guard sinks shots, too and tonight, Cat is awful from the field. 

  • The Suns are all over this take-Vlad-off-the-dribble shtick.  This time they actually isolate Barbosa up top against him.  What's funny is that Phoenix doesn't have to run a screen to get the matchup - it's there when they come down.  Barbosa drives and misses the layup.  Credit Shaun Livingston for closing baseline.

  • Side screen roll for EB and he misses the open 16-footer.  They get Mobley for abusing Nash underneath. 

  • With the shot clock at :06, Marion sets an on-ball screen at the top of the circle for Nash.  Nash does his patented left turn at the elbow where he meets Brand, who has taken him off the switch.  Upon meeting EB, Nash stops, leaps, then spots Raja Bell wide open at the sweet spot on the arc.  Cassell has long left Bell to linger in the lane - and Sam would need the Shea Stadium golf cart to get back to his spot in time.  Bell drains the three.  Collins claims that it was contested...but really, Doug.   

    PHX 106, Clippers 105 (2:18)

  • Cassell's entry pass to Brand is knocked away, then stolen by Raja Bell.

  • Nash PUJIT from 26 is no good. 

  • Cassell has now taken the last possession personally.  He gets a high screen from EB that's of moderate usefulness.  He drives right, to the top of the circle.  Sam backs in, spins, and misses the 18-footer.  Marion pulls down another board.

  • Running in transition, Nash finds Barbosa in the right corner with the Clips still on their heels; Barbosa shoots it up a spot to Bell, who sends it over to a set, wide-open Thomas from the top of the arc.  His wide open 25-footer is no good.  The Clippers get a loose ball foul on Barbosa as Shaun grabs the long rebound.

  • A traffic jam on the Clippers' end results in Thomas collecting his sixth foul.  D'Antoni brings in an ice cold Diaw.  Better news:  The Clippers are now in the penalty.  Elton sinks both.  The Clips get a Q-Sam offense-defense switch.

    Clippers 107, PHX 106 (1:12)

  • Q guards Nash, who gets the switch he wants in Vlad when Marion sets the S/R.  Nash penetrates all the way under the rim and kicks it out to what should've been Boris Diaw on the arc, but either Diaw was out of position, or the pass was wildly high.  Either way, it's a crucial fuckup for the Suns at :54.

  • Bell manages to stay between Cassell and the Brand screen, so Sam dribbles left.  He then takes the kind of side-sweeping, fadeaway jumper that has you impaling your electronics for even considering such a shot with :11 left on the shot clock...except when he sinks them.

    Clippers 109, PHX 106 (0:39)

  • Nash sprints downcourt, gets a nice little screen from Diaw at the top of the circle that cuts off Livingston and allows Nash to go left where he can take the less quick Brand off the dribble.  Livingston tries to recover, but Nash is already to the basket for the layup.

    Clippers 109, PHX 108 (0:31)

  • Sam-EB Side Screen Roll.  EB is left with Marion one-on-one until Nash comes over for some nominal help defense. 

    Watching this sequence repeatedly now, I think Brand inside is the path of least resistance.  More important, I want Brand to think it's the path of least resistance. 

    This is what Brand sees: PHX has rotated strong side - Nash has left Livingston to double him and Barbosa has left Mobley to cover Livingston on the right block.  This leaves Mobley open in the right corner.

    So Brand tries to fire the pass cross court out of the double team to Mobley, but the ball is intercepted by Barbosa. 

    This possession won't get a lot of play tomorrow, but it was a biggie.  Brand is our guy and he does everything above average to exceptional.  He's a Top Ten player.  But Justin and I have repeatedly said that if there's one component of Elton's game that needs improvement - that can get him from Elton Brand to Tim Duncan - it's making better passes and more confident decisions out of the double team. 

  • With 11.6, Nash rushes the ball up left side with Livingston guarding him.  He gets a nice screen from Diaw that allows him to attack Vlad on the block.  But Stevie gets caught in traffic, kicks it out to nobody in particular and the ball squirts over to Sam Cassell, who is immediately fouled by Raja Bell with 3.6.
    Sam hits both free throws.

    Clippers 111, PHX 108 (0:03.6)

  • PHX will inbound the ball on their side of midcourt.  The Clippers field a team of Livingston, Ross, Mobley, Waltah and Daniel Ewing.  Most notably, they have a foul to give. 

    I'll be honest.  I expect Vlad Radmanovic to be guarding the inbounder.  But my first reaction to the Ewing sub is positive.  He's as quick as anyone on the team to the ball.  Drills like these are part and parcel of Big Time Division One College Basketball, and I can't think of anyone in the known universe who has defended more short-situation inbound plays than Daniel Ewing. 

    In retrospect, it seems that speed isn't nearly so important in this situation as length, doesn't it? 

    Now - onto the issue of the foul to give.  The capital crime in this situation would be fouling a shooter, so the first thing to be wary of is hacking a guy for the sake of giving the foul while he's able to heave up a Cassell-style maneuver. 

    A zillion people will have a zillion different responses tomorrow on talk radio, at the proverbial water cooler over I.M.  But I'm here to tell you as someone who has now watched it in real time on his Tivo five to ten different times and another five times in slo-mo, that there was absolutely no margin of comfort for Ewing to give that foul on Bell.

    None whatsoever. 

    I think the more substantive criticism is why you don't have a guy with a longer wing span guarding the hottest shooter in the series rather than giving the assignment to a 6'3", 185 pound guard who has splinters on his ass from sitting so long.  Why not have a guy with some vertical springs like Singleton if you want to get creative?  Or a guy with some length who can time a block like Elton?  Or a quick 6'10" Vlad Radmanovic?  Why send a guy after Bell who gives up two inches? 

    Clippers 111, PHX 111 (0.01.1)

  • Livingston tries to inbound to Brand, who is being held by Marion, under the basket.  I'm not saying it should necessarily be called in this situation; I'm just reporting the facts.   The Suns miss their desperation attempt, as well, but not by much.

    Clippers 111, PHX 111 (End of 1st Overtime)


The Clippers control the second overtime tip:

  • They go into Brand in the post, only this time PHX doubles him with both Marion and Diaw.  The pressure makes a difference and EB misses the little 10-footer.

  • The Phoenix Suns are called for their first shot clock violation since Kyle Macy heaved up an airball during the 1982-1983 season.  What's strange about this possession is that Diaw has two or three open looks from his spot at the elbow that he likes so much.  He's sat most of the second half.  Does he feel cold?

  • Sam punches it into EB in the side post.  When Brand is doubled with help from Diaw, he finds the Diaw's guy, Shaun Livingston, for an open 19-footer.  It's short.  Yet another Marion rebound. 

  • Since Diaw is uncomfortable up top, how about let's get him something down low, shall we?  It's a beautiful lob pass underneath Livingston.  The minute Brand slides over to help, Marion cuts along the baseline and Diaw fires the ball to him.  Brand fouls him and Marion makes two.

    PHX 113, Clippers 111 (3:49)

  • Please see Clipper points 108 & 109 with 0:39 left in the first overtime; it's a facsimile. 

    PHX 113, Clippers 113 (3:34)

  • Nash-Diaw drag S/R.  Diaw gets it fairly far out on the wing and dribbles in to the paint against Brand.  He misses a 6-footer he usually sinks, but Marion follows with a slam. Marion twists his ankle on the play and stays down for a couple of minutes and is forced to leave the game momentarily.

    PHX 115, Clippers 113 (3:16)

  • Livingston drives down the gut of the lane against James Jones.  He can taste it, but the shot is off.  Bodies fly, but from my eye, Shaun wasn't really touched. 

  • The miss precipitates a PHX break of quick touch passes: Bell-Jones-Nash-Jones for a missed 26-footer.  Brand collects the miss. 

  • Sam wastes no time.  He pulls up and with :16 on the shot clock, bricks a 21-footer. 

  • Nash gets the long rebound and you know what that means:  Weaving dribble-penetration that Nash halts abruptly in the lane.  The MVP finds his trailer - Bell who is just getting set at the sweet spot.  The Clippers are very fortunate that Bell misses the 23-footer.

    Somehow in the battle for the loose ball, Livingston is whistled for a foul for...being in the way of a lunging James Jones. 

    PHX resets.  Barbosa starts with it, dribble-penetrates, turns baseline, then kicks it out to Nash.  Nash takes Shaun off the dribble and beelines right toward Vlad under the basket.  When he gets there, he leaps and fires a pass to Bell in the corner, but Cassell does a nice job of closing.  So what does Bell do? 

    His best Sam Cassell imitation.  He dribble-drives into Cassell, induces the vet into leaving his feet on a pump-fake and throws his body into Cassell's.  Bell sinks one of two.

    PHX 116, Clippers 113 (2:00)

  • Side Screen Roll for Brand.  He's doubled, but splits Diaw and Marion and now you're asking yourself why the hell they haven't been challenging the double-team every time down.  At the very least, it could've changed the entire complexion of the mid-range game.  The Clippers finish the night 40.8% from the field.
     
    PHX 116, Clippers 115 (1:46)

  • The Suns run a high Nash-Diaw S/R with Livingston and Brand hedging.  But when Livingston falls chasing Nash toward the top of the circle, Mobley is the only defender left to help and this leaves Barbosa wide open on the arc.  Nash finds him with ease.  Three points.

    It's now a two possession game for the first time since regulation.

    PHX 119, Clippers 115 (1:37)

  • Sam wastes no time getting it into Brand one-on-one against Marion in the post.  Brand spins baseline, then gets caught further under the basket than he prefers, misses the layup, claws for the offensive board, puts it back up...and one.

    PHX 119, Clippers 118 (1:22)

  • Yep.  That again.  Diaw can't get a reasonable shot in close against Brand so he tries to find Marion on the weak side and the ball deflects off Mobley out-of-bounds - a stroke of bad luck for the Clips.  The Suns retain possession.

    Beautiful little set we haven't seen from PHX in a while.  Off the inbound, Marion sets a screen at the foul line for Nash, who darts up top to the right wing.  Marion rolls of the screen to the left wing.  When Nash dribble-penetrates and Livinston - who leaves Marion way up top (because the Matrix hasn't hit anything beyond 18 since the Lamar battles) - collapses on Stevie in the lane, Marion makes a hard cut to the basket.  Nash leaves a little drop pass inside for an easy Marion layup.

    Pretty.  Deadly.

    PHX 121, Clippers 118 (1:05)

  • You couldn't ask for a better scheme: Sam into EB on the block.  The double-team comes; Elton finds Cat wide open on the arc.  Cat successfully splits the defense off the dribble and plain misses the layup. 

    The story of his night.

    Livingston fouls Barbosa, who sinks both free throws.

    PHX 123, Clippers 118 (0:52)

The Clippers don't score again while the Suns tack on a couple more free throws.  Final Score: PHX 125, Clippers 118.
If there's any consolation, it's this: the Clippers can win in that building.  They've won handily two of the past four meetings there and should've won the other two.  So Game 7 in PHX shouldn't concern us.

Game 6 in Los Angeles should.