It’s hard to get anything against Houston, but after Tracy McGrady hits a 19-foot jump shot with 3:29 left – his only FGM of the fourth quarter – the Clippers score on their next five possessions, all the while holding Houston to a couple of Yao Ming FTMs.  The last of those five possessions results in Corey’s sinking two free throws to put the Clippers up 87-85 with 1:05 remaining.  

    Coming out of the timeout, Jeff Van Gundy swaps offense [Luther Head] for defense [Chuck Hayes].  The Clippers do the same – Quinton Ross for Cuttino Mobley.  We rarely see Mobley come out in an offense-defense sub, but Dunleavy wants Corey on the floor, likely for his rebounding:

Rafer Alston brings the ball up and shuttles it quickly to McGrady at the top of the arc coming off a screen from Shane Battier.  Ross cuts through the screen and doesn’t lose any ground on McGrady.  From there, it’s simple.  Thomas has strayed from Battier a bit to ready himself for the double-team on McGrady.  Once McGrady turns the corner at the left elbow, Thomas commits, stepping inside the lane to challenge McGrady, leaving Battier alone in the left corner.  McGrady dishes the ball off to Battier, who has all night.  Thomas futilely tries to close, but forget it.  3PM.  

    Hayes and Mobley return for their respective squads.  The Clips take it out on the side with :53 left.  As Hart holds it up top, Elton fakes a high screen, then quickly cuts to set a down screen on Battier for Maggette, who simultaneously cuts along the left arc to collect the ball from Hart.  The screen by Elton is perfect, and Corey never stops.  He drives down the teeth of the defense.  Battier is completely tied up by Elton.  Hayes steps onto the right block and sort of forces Corey – maybe the tiniest bit -- to twist awkwardly as he goes up for the layup.   The ball hits high off the glass, falls onto the front rim, then slips off.  Yao collects the rebound.

    Houston milks the shot clock to :10, with Alston holding the rock up top. Yao sets a screen for McGrady in the left mid-post, but Mobley stays with McGrady as he dives toward the basket.  McGrady quickly reverses course, cuts back along the baseline to the left corner, then hangs a left to dash up the sideline with Mobley in pursuit.  As McGrady comes around the corner, Alston darts it into him on the left wing from about 14-feeet.  It’s a great look, but McGrady misses and Maggette comes down with the rebound.

    Clippers have it with :23 left in regulation down one. No timeout is called.  Hart brings the ball up, then dribbles the clock down to :14.5.  At that point, Elton comes up and fakes a high screen, then scoots down, only to return for another pick.  Hart has made no progress penetrating the defense; there’s no admission below the foul line.  Finally, he dishes it off to Tim Thomas on the left arc. Hayes closes very quickly.  The shot is no good and the rebound goes to Yao.   Maggette quickly fouls Alston, who hits both free throws with :4.1 left to put Houston up by three.

    One last chance for the Clippers, with Hart to inbound.  Elton’s solid down screen on McGrady allows Mobley to curl up from the weak side block.  With the switch, Yao is now assigned to Cat.  When Mobley gets the ball right in front of Hart on the inbounds, he’s one step quicker than Yao, which allows him to elevate for the 3PA.  As he does, Alston makes contact.  Mobley earns three shots, but the officials give him only two.  It’s really not even a close call.  The Clippers get jobbed.  Some will point out that Mobley misses the first of two, but I’m not someone who believes that counterfactuals like that work.  If Cat has three to tie, it might be an entirely different mindset and conclusion.  We’re not talking about something so arbitrary as a block-charge call.  If you can use instant replay to check something as visually binary as the clock – did the shot beat 0:00 or not? – then you should be able to use it to get a foot-on-the-line call correct.  

All three members of Houston’s frontcourt – Battier, Hayes, and Yao – are probably among the 15-20 best defensive players in the league.  Not surprisingly, their halfcourt defense is ferocious.  You saw it all night, particularly in the latter half of the third quarter, when the Clippers could get absolutely nothing, scoring all of four points in the final 7:40 of the period.  On the other end, McGrady torched Mobley for eight points over the final 3 + change in the quarter, running Cat ragged off the ball for three FGMs, then taking him off the dribble to close the quarter with a driving layup.  Dunleavy started the fourth with Q on McGrady, which mitigated things somewhat.  

Meanwhile, what are we gonna do about Chris Kaman?  The man has Steve Sax disease.  These moves to the basket?  It’s sick.  From inside of ten feet, the guy can get a shot virtually anytime he wants.  I don’t think people outside of Los Angeles realize how skilled he actually is.  But he can’t finish, a condition that’s becoming almost clinical.  That’s not a professional diagnosis, mind you, but is there any other way to explain it?