Every once in a while on a regular old Wednesday night in January, you find yourself watching a playoff game.  Tonight, from the outset, the intensity is palpable.  The crowd mics are turned to 11, because everything shouted on the court can be heard over the air.  Both Sam and Chris are wound up.  Elton is playing with a gi-normous chip.  Even the boneheaded plays are the products of gripping too hard, not sleepwalking.  For the most part, everyone plays well; or, rather, nobody plays poorly.  Shaun hasn't been able to buy a bucket this past week, but tonight he works on the defensive end and doesn't make any terrible decisions.  Mobley isn't much of a factor, but like Shaun, he doesn't hurt the Clips either.  Everyone else plays his quintessential game.  EB is classically, efficiently EBish, after a ragged start.  An irrepressible Sam battles Ricky Davis for control of the game in the game's final eight minutes.  Kaman establishes the post early with the hook.  And, all night, Corey Maggette works his way to the line, where he goes 11-for-11, though his open j with 4.8 left is the difference-maker. 

Dunleavy starts Cassell, Shaun, and Mobley with Brand and Kaman, allowing Cat to take Ricky Davis, leaving Shaun on Hassell.  There's a lot of logic to making Shaun the primary help defender and, despite Shaun's cold shooting, I suspect we'll see this lineup a good deal going forward.  The Clippers shoot horribly in the first quarter.  But turning the ball over only once in a period makes it easier to weather a cold snap.  Clearly, the Clippers aren't the defensive ninjas that the Wolves' 36.8% first quarter shooting suggests, but they lock up the Wolves pretty well.  There are several basic layers of proficiency to playing sound weak side defense.  The first is aggressive, fierce, straight-up man defense --- not letting your guy set himself where he wants to on the court.  The second is making the right choice as to whether the strong side demands your help.  The third is figuring out exactly when to help, because if you leave too early, then you might leave your guy alone on the floor before it's safe to do; if you wait too long, then you might miss the play and give the ballhandler too much free reign, time, and space.  Throughout the first quarter, the Clippers seem to time their rotations almost perfectly, as well as doing a nice job on the S/R.  

For the little second quarter comeback run --- until Kaman's ankle begins to become a real problem --- Dunleavy decides to go with size, a Livingston-Maggette-Thomas at the 3-Brand-Kaman lineup.  With each team getting seven possessions, the Clippers claw back to tie the game, outscoring the Wolves 6-1.  Minnesota's only score comes on a trip to the line by Garnett, where he converts one of two.  The other six possessions yield five missed shots and a Shaun Livingston steal.  The Clips shut down Minnesota on the glass, allowing zero offensive boards.  With the exception of a 20-foot miss from Corey, the Clips use their size to get deep for every shot.  Corey doesn't convert a post-up against Davis from inside of six feet, but the position is there and it's a great instinct by Corey. Corey is never defended by his physical equal.  When the Clips are in a slow, halfcourt game, he'd be crazy not to post up his guy when he's on the weak side.   The next two times down, Thomas destroys Reed in the post, then Kaman embarrasses Blount, who flops gracelessly. 

The third quarter is insanely good NBA basketball.  A quality product. Garnett's patented double-fake, turnaround, indefensible jumper.  Elton's slow boil, driving baseline past KG one-on-one for the natural 3pp at the crucial you-gotta-be-careful moment when the Clippers slip seven down with six minutes left in the third.  Someone want to tell me when Mark Blount developed an offensive game?  Corey Maggette manufactures four points from the line to keep the Clips even down the stretch in the period. 

There's no fitting conclusion to the road trip's travelogue that has this game not coming down to the final possession. Tim Thomas hits his biggest shot in six weeks coming out of the twenty second timeout Sam is forced to call on the baseline under the basket.  Sam refuses to allow Ricky Davis to go unanswered, and tells him so.  And when the Clips can't directly counter Davis' second consecutive three with one from Thomas, Brand swoops in and grabs the rebound and launches a face-up jumper to quiet the Nords.  When the FSN Prime Ticket scorebar and clocks go out, both teams stop scoring. 

After Bracey Wright, left alone on the right wing [and why not?], hits a 20-footer to tie the game 88-88 with 3:17, the next point scored is Randy Foye's, courtesy of the worst call of the season.   There's nothing to break down here.  Everyone saw it: Randy Foye launches himself from a point about four feet below the foul line.  Sam stands, solidly positioned --- statue that he is --- about two full feet in front of defender's circle, and is assaulted by Foye.  How set is Sam?  Let's say this: If you were charged with a free-lance gig putting together an instructional video about the dreaded block-charge call, this is tape you would cut into the "charge" segment.  This isn't a middle fifty percentile call given, as tradition has it, to the home team in the closing minutes of a game.  This isn't a case of "you can't expect to get that call inside of a minute."  This is a textbook charge.  No matter who the teams.  No matter who the players. No matter how late in the game.

Foye sinks one of two, and the Clips get it back with :52 after Mobley secures the rebound.   Corey gets the call, and works a trip to the line out of it, sinking both free throws to put the Clips up one.  The return trip for the Wolves is a classic case of take-what-the-defense-gives-you.  And if you're a Clippers fan, don't you want Trenton Hassell taking a jumper on the game's decisive possession?  I sure do.  Okay, maybe not that open, but I'll take that shot over a double-teamed KG face-up jumper from the elbow ten times out of ten, wouldn't you? 

Well, of course Hassell hits it, right?  I mean, that's the kind of season it's been. 

The Clippers will get one last attempt with 25.3.  Right off the inbounds, EB sets a strong, high screen for Cassell, then dives to the middle post.  He's gets open with about 19.7 seconds, but Cassell has just given it to TT way out on the perimeter.  By that time, Blount has caught up with EB and Elton has to repost.  TT hands it off to Cat way, way up beyond the arc on the wing, then sets a screen for Cat to drive around.  Randy Foye stays with Mobley the whole way. Cat drives to the right elbow and heaves up an awkward runner with about 12.5 to go and it's not close, but --- give him this --- Cat has followed the shot the whole way and he nabs the rebound.  He goes up again and gets absolutely hacked.   No call.  Brand grabs the rock, but he's too far under and too far away to do much of anything.  But Corey has shot out to the corner, to the spot on the floor where he made that shot against Miami a couple of years back.  Brand finds him and Maggette hits the shot.

Not textbook, but well-earned.  Meanwhile, remember that shot the Wolves didn't get?  This time, they get it.  Brand one-on-one against KG.  Garnett has hit this shot a million times.  He's hit it against the Clippers in this exact situation.  Tonight it's a no-go. 

The Clippers beat a quality basketball team on its home floor.  They return home and, for the next month or so, have a schedule that will afford them the opportunity to move into the top 8 if they're so inclined.