Watching the game, we were deprived of all the little vignettes that make Clipper basketball Clipper basketball - Cassell's testicular exploits, Maggette's manufacturing, Vlad eruptions from beyond the arc, Brand/Kaman block parties. Q lockdowns. East coast fans indoctrinated by cloying profiles on Clipper Nation go extra innings tonight, tune in for a Game Seven and watch the Clips phone it in. Only Elton delivered on the promise of the season, going 16-26 for 36 points.
Tonight was the only game in the series that - not even for a stretch - the Clippers were never in. Predictable storylines: The extra rest that propelled Nash, the scoring margin behind the arc, etc. But at 6:03 in the third quarter, Steve Nash carried the ball and the Clippers had a chance to cut it to five.
The Clippers lost the game over the next six minutes, blowing repeated opportunities to shave this margin and, instead, saw the lead expand to 15.
What's ironic about this stretch is that it wasn't porous defense that buried the Clippers, but a failure to execute on the offensive end. This was the Clippers' window - the moment in Game Five in which they closed from nineteen down. But tonight, they froze.
Clipperblog will compose several birth-of-a-franchise, feel-good, rosy, wasn't-it-a-nice-run posts in the coming days, but tonight -- how the Clippers lost it:
The possessions from (6:03, 3rd), following the Nash travel:
- With the Clips down seven, they field the starting lineup: Cassell-Mobley-Ross-Brand-Kaman. Cassell shakes Marion at the arc with a nice crossover, earning himself an open look at the top of the circle. No good. Brand is underneath for the offensive board; he goes up for the put-back, but Diaw blocks it from behind.
- Nash brings it up in transition and errantly lobs it into Marion underneath. The crowd moans, but it's off the Matrix.
- With another chance to cut it to 5 or fewer, Cassell brings it up left side and runs the side screen for Brand. Marion handles Brand physically and tightly on the upshift and Cassell doesn't really have him, so he dribbles baseline toward the hoop before returning the ball to Elton. EB is now covered nicely by TT who's back on him, so he swings it over to Q, who misses the 16-foot jumper from the top of the circle.
- Nash and Marion push it up sloppily, so much so that both Brand and Cassell have legitimate opportunities for the steal in the backcourt. This creates the sort of chaos that PHX always seems to convert into a bucket. They find TT ahead, wide open in the right corner, but he misses and Cat collects.
- Cat brings it up right side where he gets a nice high screen from EB that allows him to drive to the rim where he's met by Diaw. Diaw establishes nice position underneath and forces Cat to leave his feet early and he blows the layup. Kaman has a shot at the rebound, but it tips off his fingers out-of-bounds.
Cat whines a lot. In a minute, he picks up a T - Cat, that's bitch.
Top whiners on the Clippers in descending order: (1) Sam (2) Cat (3) Kaman (4) Shaun (Rarely Whines) Corey, Q, Vlad (Never Whines) Elton
- The kvetching produces numbers for PHX. Nash penetrates into the paint; bounce pass to Marion - but Ross closes nicely and Marion misses the layup. Too bad because Diaw nabs the offensive board. Why? Mobley was his man and he was making conversation with the official at the other end and never recovered. Diaw kicks it out before the Clips can get reset defensively. Barbosa hits a three. Suns by 10.
- On the other end, Cassell penetrates from the left wing. When he reaches the elbow, he draws Nash - Ross's man - from the arc. Recognizing the double-team, Sam kicks it out to Q. Q isn't feeling the jumper tonight, so with nobody to take off the dribble, he drives in for a layup. Suns by 8.
- Nash is really forcing the tempo tonight. He wastes no time heaving the ball ahead to Marion, who is cutting toward the basket. This time the Clips are back, so the Matrix touch passes a return to Nash. When he gets the rock, Nash drives straight to the rim before Ross can step in. He draws the foul on Kaman, who is the second line of defense here. Mobley picks up his T. Nash hits the technical and one of two on the foul. Suns by 10.
- The Clips come down and run a quick elbow S/R for Brand, but the Suns rotate a double-team up on EB, so Sam keeps it and they try again. This time, Sam and EB are successful and EB gets it on the side post one-on-one against TT. He spins left, drives baseline and Marion comes over to help. Good defense by PHX. Brand has to pass it out; it should be picked off by PHX, but it lands in Cassell's hands. With the shot clock expiring, Sam misses the desperation 17-footer. Shot clock violation as it doesn't even draw glass.
When did the Phoenix Suns begin playing Detroit Pistons halfcourt D?
- No S/R for Diaw, instead Nash just dumps it into Boris at the top of the circle. This draws Kaman out one-on-one, and Diaw takes him off the dribble. If not for a push-off, it's nice playcalling by PHX. Offensive foul.
- Cassell starts with it on the right wing. He tries to force an entry pass into Mobley in the mid-post, but Bell tips it out-of-bounds. Shot clock at :09. This time, Cassell dribbles into the lane, clearly wants to draw the Sammy-contact-foul on Marion, but it doesn't work. Instead, Marion gets a piece of it and we go the other way.
- Full octane Phoenix Suns basketball - quickly ahead to Nash, then to Barbosa at the right sweet spot on the arc. He passes up the shot as Mobley closes nicely. Eventually, PHX gets Diaw against Cassell inside.
A quick note - PHX is getting mismatches against the Clips they haven't been getting since Game One. Nobody is where they're supposed to be on the court for the Clips. The good news at this juncture is that PHX is actually missing as many opportunities as the Clips. But all night it seems that PHX's speedsters are taking the Clips' bigs off the dribble or that Diaw is shooting over smaller guys from mid-range.
Diaw backs Sam in and when Kaman leaves Marion to help, Diaw delivers a stellar pass to Marion, who misses an 8-footer over Kaman he should hit. But no worries, because Diaw gets the rebounds and is fouled by Brand.
Livingston and Maggette sub in for Cassell and Ross.
Off the inbound, Nash is licking his chops at the lane after TT throws a nice screen on Livingston which really opens things up. This causes Kaman to straddle, leaving Marion with an open look on the arc. Nash swings it over and Marion airmails the three-pointer. Lucky break because it's a shot Marion has been sinking tonight (5-9 3PA).
- Livingston goes into Brand on the left block and he's got TT one-on-one. Maggette swings around to the left wing where EB shoots it out to him. Maggette returns it right back into EB, and this time Marion closes with the double-team - so EB passes it back to Corey on the arc. Corey dribbles past a closing Barbosa, into traffic and throws up one of the ugliest shots of the night off the right side of the backboard. So...what happens now?
- Ja. That's all it takes to generate instant points for PHX. Diaw collects, ahead to Barbosa driving up the left sideline, to Nash down the lane for the finish. Three seconds tick off the clock. Suns by 12.
- How about into Brand on the left block? Only single-team against TT? Maybe that's a look you want? Maybe you hit that shot 65% of the time one-on-one?
Suns by 10.
- Another one of those mismatches I referred to earlier that PHX is exploiting. This time it's Thomas against Maggette in the post. Maggette flops and gets whistled for it. PHX gets it on the side.
Off the inbound, Barbosa never gets the lane he wants to penetrate. With the clock expiring he the Clips collapse on him and by the time Leandro kicks it out to Marion on the arc, the shot clock has expired.
- Cassell enters for Mobley here, and he gets it into EB at the right elbow. EB swings it over to Maggette on the left wing. And, as he frequently does, Maggette fails to execute a simple entry pass into Kaman, as Diaw gets in front of it. Effectively two turnovers for Maggette in the last two possessions.
(Clippers 2-9, 1 turnover)
- Barbosa into Thomas, who has Cassell on the left block. Again, the Clippers' transition defense is yielding all kinds of whack mismatches that are allowing PHX to get inordinately comfy on the offensive end.
So this is what happens when Tim Thomas has Sam Cassell in the post and needs help. Leaving Barbosa, Livingston comes over and...well...Charlie Brown...meet Lucy with football...meet landing-flat-on-your-ass-when-she-swipes-it-away. Barbosa for an open three.
You can bitch about a lack of rotation (and, if anyone, Maggette is the guy to help here when you look at the frame), but the problem starts with the transition defense and how in Vishnu's name you find yourself with Sam Cassell matched up on Tim Thomas. It's at this point you're screwed. Burn to death or freeze to death. Suns by 13.
- Corey earns the trifecta - three straight possessions here with de facto turnovers - after nearly losing the dribble to Tim Thomas. Maggette recovers, then begins a locomotive drive and, as he nears the rim, shovel-passes it wildly to the Gorilla in Row 5.
(Clippers 2-9, 2 turnovers)
- Marion has Elton on the perimeter and an empty lane in front of him. He decides to take EB off the dribble, but Elton stays with him, bless his heart, and the layup spins out. Marion tips the rebound out to Diaw.
Rebounds tonight: Clippers 32, PHX 32. (Offensive: Clippers 11, PHX 9)
With only :28 remaining in the quarter, the Suns reset. The plan is probably to hold, but when Barbosa sees a flat-footed Cassell and Maggette a the respective elbows, he splits the defenders and drives in for an easy, easy layup. Suns by 15.
- The Clippers have :13.9 to work with as Cassell brings it up. Sam dumps it into Brand at the left elbow. Though he's got nothing but Barbosa underneath to his left, EB decided to spin right into traffic for some reason. Marion is right there and almost knocks the ball away. When Brand finally recovers, there's only a second left on the clock. He fires a desperation jumper from 16 with two guys in his face and it misses.
(Clippers 2-10, 2 turnovers)
The Clippers finish the quarter down by 15. The deficit never narrows from there, and the Clippers' season ends with a whimper.
Again, contemplative/Verve-soundtracked posts tomorrow and/or Wednesday.