Anytime you try to look at something like basketball through the lens of The Organon, you're destined to fuck yourself silly. Last night, Cuttino Mobley entered the game with about eight minutes remaining and an eight point Clipper lead. What was notable about the substitution was that Mobley replaced Dan Dickau at point guard. Dunleavy toyed briefly with the experiment a couple of nights ago in a less consequential context, but last night – with Dickau and Andre Barrett as his only other options – he formally cast his lot with Mobley down the stretch.
The Clippers relinquished their lead and wound up losing by three – a net -11 while Mobley was manning the point. The question is one of causality: Did Mobley handling PG duties propel the Clippers to the loss?
Good question and one I'm not comfortable answering. On one hand, it probably makes sense for the Clips to field their best offensive lineup as much as possible. And in a game when the ball is being walked up the floor, is it really worth handing minutes to the likes of Dickau or Barrett when a player like Mobley, though not a great ballhandler, could probably do the job?
Mobley handles the point for 14 possessions down the stretch. The Clippers converted a score on six of those possessions. Let's take a look at a sample
- [4th, 7:39] The first Mobley-at-point possession is pretty ugly. The ball crawls its way around the perimeter: Mobley-Ross-Thornton-Mobley-Ross. Finally, Ross recognizes that he's got Randy Foye a little bit off-balanced and it's a run to daylight. He drives down the gut of the lane. Most of the Minnesota defense stays at home and Ross converts the layup.
Still, the set is completely inert.
- [4th, 7:16] Early in the possession, Mobley gets a high screen from Josh Powell. Cat doesn't waste anytime penetrating against the Minnesota zone. But his left-handed drive to the hoop results in a missed layup.
Not a bad call, but a terrible finish by Mobley.
- [4th, 6:33] The Clips now have their full offensive lineup on the floor: Mobley-Maggette-Thornton-Thomas-Kaman. Again, the ball is worked around the arc and never reaches the post. With :05, Maggette gets a pretty open look at a 3PA, but he misses. Kaman grabs the offensive board, but his putback doesn't fall.
- [4th, 5:56] Another perimeter circle jerk that results in a Thornton 21-foot miss. The Clips get another shot after a loose ball foul, during which they actually work themselves a shot in the paint – a bouncy Tim Thomas hook shot that clanks. Kaman's attempted tip doesn't go either.
- [4th, 5:07] A two-point game now, as the vaunted, impenetrable Minnesota Timberwolves 2-3 strangles the Clips. More merry-go-round. Maggette tries and fails to get an entry pass into Thomas on the left block. The Clips get the benefit of the out-of-bounds call and get it back. The ball returns to the perimeter. Maggette decides to create. As his drive enters the paint, he tries to pass it out to an open Mobley, but Marko Jaric tips the pass and we go the other way.
- [4th, 4:46] A redux of the last possession, but here Maggette finds his way to the rim with a potent drive.
- [4th, 4:18] The Clips try Thomas again in the post against Corey Brewer. Thomas gets fouled on the turnaround hook and converts both FTs.
- [4th, 3:38] The game is tied. Again, Maggette darts an entry pass into Thomas on the left side of the box. Ryan Gomes has the matchup now and he reads the hook shot well. The shot is way off.
- [4th, 3:00] The Clippers work more quickly here and find Kaman low – but not in a terribly advantageous position along the baseline. Kaman doesn't like to receive the ball that deep…and the T-Wolves sense it. They send Jefferson to double. Kaman is in a horrible position to pass out from, and his cross-court pass almost gets tipped away, but somehow ends up in Maggette's hands. Maggette elevates for a shot he doesn't have, but on his way down, he shoots a baseline pass to Kaman, who pump-fakes, then goes up and draws the foul. Chris coverts both FTs.
- [4th, 2:23] More circular motion. At :13, Thornton dumps it into Kaman at the foul line. McCants, who had been on Thornton, takes the bait and drops, so Kaman wisely gets it back to Thornton for the 3PA at the top of the arc. It doesn't go.
- [4th, 1:39] The Clips trail by two. They pass it around the arc again until :11. Finally, Mobley dumps it into Kaman off the right post – in a somewhat better spot than before. The double-team comes, so Kaman passes it back outside to Maggette on the arc. There's good news: When Kaman got the ball, the T-Wolves' zone constricted the inside so tightly, that now Mobley is alone in the left corner. The Clips work the ball around to Cat and he sinks the 3PM.
Clips by one.
- [4th, 1:00] The Clips have found their formula: Dump it into the big man, let the defense collapse while spreading the arc. So long as the shots go down, it works. Again, Mobley gets into Kaman off the mid-right post. This time, the double comes from the perimeter though. This leaves Mobley, who has just delivered the entry pass, wide open along the far sideline for a 3PA. Kaman quickly shuttles the ball back to Cat, but this time Cat misses.
- [4th, 0:03] You know the rest of the story. The Clips get the ball back with :10.5, trailing by three after Foye hits the circus shot off the pane. Minnesota goes with a man-to-man. Thornton inbounds the ball to Cat about 30 feet from the basket. Cat dribbles left while Corey weaves right. Corey gets the handoff at about 26 feet at :07.8. The misdirection and the high Thomas screen have given Corey some space, but he elects to drive against Foye and pull up for an 18-foot J with :03.0 remaining.
I mean, not a bad option…five seconds earlier. The replay is funny because, as Corey shoots it, Dunleavy slumps back in his chair and extends his hands, palms upwards: What. The. Fuck.
And the excited face of Dan Dickau drops as quickly as his arms -- which had elevated upward in a 3PM gesture as Corey receives the ball beyond the arc -- just as Corey turns the corner into 2PFG-land.
As Corey approaches the bench after the make with the ol' dog-devours-homework look, Dunleavy, red-faced, tries to discern some intelligible rationale from Corey as to what he was thinking. Jim Eyen sort of rolls his eyes in the background.
Corey Maggette finishes the night with 29 points.
- [4th, 0:00] After Ross intentionally fouls Foye quickly, Foye makes both FTs and the Clips get it back with :02.4. This time, Thomas is on the inbound.
It's a really sweet play. Seriously. Mobley is directly in front of the sideline and Thomas. Kaman is at the top of the key. Chris steps out to set a strong screen on Foye that allows Mobley to dash undeterred and unmanned to the far left corner. Foye picks up Maggette who has cut from the near side to the inbounder. Kirk Snyder, who had Maggette initially, is totally crossed up as Thornton sprints from underneath the hoop back up top as the third option.
Thomas heaves a perfect pass across the court to Mobley in the corner. Cat has plenty time to catch, set, and launch…but he overshoots the hoop and it catches air.
I'm still uncommitted on the question as to whether the Clips need a true point in the game if that PG happens to be named Dan Dickau or Andre Barrett. It's also worth noting that the Minnesota Timberwolves score 24 points in the final eight minutes, largely because the Clippers' help defense on Minnesota penetration is awful. The Wolves don't shoot much from the perimeter, but they'll drive the lane and, to the extent the Minnesota Timberwolves can force anyone to do anything, they force the opposing defense to make decisions on help. Who's going to pick up Foye once he blasts past Mobley on that high Jefferson screen? And if Jefferson slides that screen, who's gonna pick his big ass up?
The Clips did a reasonably decent job figuring this stuff out most of the way, but came completely unglued in the defensive halfcourt just about the time they became rudderless on the offensive end. I think it's coincidence because Dan Dickau isn't going to help your ballclub defend Randy Foye, even if Cuttino Mobley can't help your ballclub break a facile zone.