Despite going 1-12 from beyond the arc, the Clippers were able to manufacture possessions. It wasn't easy: Kurt Thomas blanketed Elton Brand and, for much of the first quarter, Shawn Marion disrupted Sam Cassell - an interesting assignment by D'Antoni but one that worked. Elton contributed with three blocks and 10 rebounds, but got only 10 shots off from the field with only seven FTA.
One of the weirdest stats of the night was Tim Thomas' 13 rebounds - the first time he's been in double figures since March 3, 2004 when he was in New York and the most since he picked up 13 with Milwaukee in November 2003. He also blocked two shots.
Tim Thomas, professional power forward [enter preferred emoticon here].
With 8:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, Boris Diaw sunk a free throw to put PHX up 93-91. From there, the Clippers ran off a 16-4 run that put them in control of the game with 3:18 to go. Here's how it broke down:
- The unit on the floor comprises Livingston (PG), Mobley (SG), Maggette (SF), Thomas (PF), and Kaman (C). Livingston brings the ball up right side against Marcus Banks. On the right elbow, Kaman sets a largely ineffective screen on Diaw, then breaks for the basket. This creates just enough room for Shawn to take Banks off the dribble, and he does so with a forceful drive to the basket, drawing the foul from Banks in the process. It actually looks like Banks got a finger on the ball as Livingston went up. Shaun sinks the free throw. (Clippers 94, PHX 93)
- With Banks at point for PHX, the Suns spread their four guys around the perimeter. Diaw receives the ball on the left wing with Banks cutting down the lane. Per the spoke-and-wheel offense, Diaw dribble-drives toward the basket and three Clippers -- Kaman, Mobley, and Thomas -- pick him up in the paint. Probably a bad decision by Thomas (Do you really need to triple-team Boris Diaw coming down the lane?), as this leaves Marion wide open in his favorite spot in the right corner. Diaw slings a nice baseline pass Marion's way...but the Matrix airballs the open three.
- Thomas comes up with the loose ball and the Clippers have it in transition with Shaun at the controls. He slows it down and passes it off to Mobley on the right perimeter. Kaman sets an elbow screen which Mobley's man, Barbosa, tries to run under. This creates ample room for Mobley, but he misses the 21-footer. Back the other way off the Marion rebound.
- Marion pulls up, then backs it out to Banks. Banks, the worst shooter on the floor, foregoes the offense and takes a 21-foot jumper at the top of the key. No good. Maggette swoops in for the rebound. [Is there a guy in the L right now who hits the boards with more authority than Corey Maggette? You can actually hear leather...errr...synthetic meet palm when Corey comes down with the rock.]
- Livingston up left side this time. His crossover fools Banks and he penetrates to about seven feet, far enough to draw Jones - who is covering Mobley -- to the left block. Right when Jones commits, Livingston delivers a perfect pass to Cat, who lays it up and in. Pure mastery by Shaun. Time out PHX [7:38]. (Clippers 96, PHX 93)
- Nash replaces Banks. Thomas and Barbosa are back in, as well. Spoke-and-wheel as Nash penetrates, then kicks it back out to Diaw...who penetrates, but runs into an imposing Kaman. Diaw then dishes it back out to Nash. It's worth noting that Kaman's presence coupled with solid man-on-man defense out on the perimeter is shutting down PHX's penetration on this possession. Nash and Diaw try a little give-and-go and, when he receives the ball back from Nash, Diaw drives to the basket, but is stuffed by...I think it's Thomas. The ball gets tipped out to the backcourt and, in rushing to the ball, Livingston commits a LBF on Bell. The Suns get it back.
- Nash and K. Thomas run a high S/R. Nash drives around the screen, then kicks it out to Diaw on the left wing. Diaw, again, tries a roundabout drive to the basket, but misses. There's a scrum for the rebound and K. Thomas comes down with the ball. Reset again...Nash-to-Thomas-over to-Barbosa on the weak side perimeter.
Again, the Clips interior D is cutting off penetration. The best PHX can come up? Barbosa from 26. The Suns go 11-27 from downtown, but this is one of their 16 misses.
- Livingston brings it up and the Clippers go into a set that looks a lot like the Drop Post Up they ran last season with Brand and Mobley. This time it's TT and Mobley. A nice play call because it allows Cat to post Barbosa, who is uniquely ill-equipped to defend inside of ten feet. Sure enough, Cat gets the ball from TT on the right block, spins and shoots right a nice fade-away over Barbosa.
Nice. (Clippers 98, PHX 93)
- Nash brings it up against Shaun, gets a screen from Diaw at the top of the circle which he darts around. Then, Nash dishes it off to Barbosa, who has come up from the right corner. Barbosa dribbles right into the teeth of the Clips' interior D, so he backs it out and returns the rock to Nash. Reset. Nash penetrates, again running into a double-team (Mobley and TT. Thomas is having a nice defensive possession), so he dishes off to Diaw. Diaw fakes a drive, but has nowhere to go. Again, back out to Nash on the perimeter with :08 remaining on the shot clock. Mobley quickly picks up Nash, who spins right - though Cat is staying with him. Livingston leaves Barbosa to double Nash, so Nash kicks it out to Barbosa. He launches it from 26, but Livingston closes quickly and blocks the shot.
This is the finest defensive set of the night. Perfect communication, fluid rotations, quick switches, smothering on-ball coverage. And Cuttino Mobley is at the center of it all. After starting on Barbosa, he picks up Nash on the first switch, then runs under the Diaw screen without losing Nash.
You also get a sense of how difficult it is to defend PHX in the halfcourt. There is so much going on, countless screens, decoys, sudden penetration. It's exhausting to watch, but the choreography is beautiful. In the fourth, the Clippers have sniffed it out and the ease with which PHX dominated the latter half of the third quarter has evaporated.
- After Livingston blocks the shot, it lands in TT's hands. What follows is one of the most precise lob passes you'll ever see from Thomas to Livingston, who has broken down the court. Livingston lays it in. (Clippers 100, PHX 93)
- The Suns come right back, and have the Clippers disoriented. Kaman leaves Thomas on the left block to pick up Diaw, because Boris' guy - TT - has left him to trap Nash out on the perimeter. The rotation is blown just enough that Nash finds the daylight between him and K. Thomas and threads the needle. (Clippers 100, PHX 95) [5:54]
- Shaun brings it up deliberately and after seeing a couple of half-hearted cross-screens, Shaun delivers a skip-pass to a cutting Maggette. Maggette drives, misses the layup, but comes down with the rebound. Kicked ball, new :24. The first thing EB does when he checks into the game is set a perfect screen on Barbosa that allows Mobley to break to the top of the key and receive the ball from Livingston. Cat sinks the jumper. (Clippers 102, PHX 95)
- More spoke-and-wheel. Nash just can't find any daylight when penetrating because the Clips are closing quickly now. They can taste it. How often does a PHX possession get down to :06 with five minutes to go in a game in which they trail? Barbosa is ultimately the guy who takes it to the hole. The runner high off the glass is no good. Rebound EB.
- Slow it up. Mobley feeds Kaman on the right block and Chris is immediately doubled. It doesn't get said enough, but Chris sees the court extremely well for a young center. It doesn't take him a nanosecond to see that it's Corey's man from the top of the perimeter, so Kaman kicks it back out to Corey, who misses the 25-foot jumper from beyond. Nevertheless, a nice set. |
And that's the thing. I'd rather see that set, even if it results in nothing, than some of the dreck we watched on Thursday night that, by dumb luck, resulted in a bucket.
- PHX is wasting no time. Nash drives into another mass of Clippers, sees Diaw open from 21, delivers him the ball; Diaw misses, but K. Thomas is shoved to the ground by Kaman, so the Suns get shots. The Matrix checks back in, and Thomas hits his free throws. (Clippers 102, PHX 97) [4:30]
- Sam enters the game to record the save, while Shaun leaves to applause. Sam drops an entry pass into Mobley, who is immediately doubled. K. Thomas has shifted himself to monitor the strong side. As Mobley is going up, he sees this and, instead of taking the contested shot, he fires a perfect pass to EB at the foul line. Good [glass]. (Clippers 104, PHX 97)
- Nash gets the ball tipped away momentarily up top (Mobley), but manages to push it over to Diaw, who is open from 14. Diaw airballs it. Misses everything. The disruption from the Mobley tip seems to disorient everyone on the floor. The Clips get it back.
- A stagnant possession. The ball rotates and ends up in Maggette's hands on the perimeter with :07 left on the shot clock. Corey sees that Mobley has gotten position on Nash (barely) on the low right block. With time expiring, Cat goes up for the shot against the double team and gets fouled by a pissed off Nash. Cat sinks two. (Clippers 106, PHX 97)
- Nash into Diaw at the foul line. Diaw hands it off to Bell on a reverse sweep, sorta. Bell misses the 14-footer. Kaman is fouled on the rebound and sinks one of two. (Clippers 107, PHX 97)
The Clippers maintain control from here. Giving up 107 points doesn't suggest a great defensive effort, but the Clippers locked the Suns down when it counted. They held a team that was shooting unconsciously in the third quarter (outscoring the Clips 39-24) to 44% overall. Though they got interrupted briefly during that absurd PHX run, the Clips played their game tonight, and were rewarded.