Here are a few early impressions...
- We learned something definitive tonight -- the more time the Clippers spend with their backs to the basket on the offensive end, the better chance they have to win this series. One of the most effective things the Clippers did tonight was post up Cassell, Mobley and Livingston. As if having Brand and Kaman on the block wasn't enough, the Clippers relentlessly drove every last Phoenix defender below the foul line - and when shots went up they either (a) fell through or (b) didn't ... at which point there was a scrum for every rebound amongst all ten guys on the floor - and who's going to win that battle?
- Chris Kaman doesn't need to score to be effective. He draws double-teams - both off-the-ball and on, rebounds the ball like crazy and creates space for the Clippers' mid-range game (which, let's face it, is where the Clips make their living).
Look, Kaman is going to struggle defensively at times when the Suns space the floor - he's a big guy who makes his living on both ends below the foul line. He can't run with Diaw and gets in trouble when Thomas draws him out. But those are just the realities of this series. So you return to the Great Law of Basketball Reciprocity:
It's impossible for Team A to have a matchup advantage without surrendering a similar advantage on the other end to Team B.
If the Clips don't use Kaman to abuse Phoenix inside in some form or fashion, then there's really no reason for him to be on the floor.
Tonight, they put Kaman to work, and it paid off.
- John picked up on this early on - the Clippers success in the first half started with their coverage of Boris Diaw. Watching the Clippers defensively, you get the sense that their Game Two game plan started with a yellow legal pad whose top margin read "How Boris Diaw Can Screw Us."
From the outset of the game, when Diaw was weak side, the Clippers switched EB onto him, allowing Kaman to play closer to the basket. On the high drag, the Clippers continually forced Nash further out so that the Clippers could fill the passing lane between him and the cutting Diaw. When Diaw tried to post up, the Clippers switched Q down onto him.
Boris Diaw was "it." And the Clippers nailed him. Even though Diaw was 6-8 from the field, he was less active and the Suns' offense was the worse for it.
- Sam Cassell is the Sean Casey of basketball; he's the mayor. There probably isn't a guy who's been in the league more than 3 years who doesn't have a Sam Cassell story. My favorite Cassell moment from the night is a timeout at 8:47 in the fourth quarter with the Clippers up 104-84. Livingston comes off the floor and Cassell is there to greet him with a mouthful. I rewound the previous few series and couldn't find where Livingston missed a defensive assignment or lobbed a careless entry pass or got lost above a screen. Who knows? But it reminded me of that great scene from Bull Durham after Tim Robbins comes off the field self-satisfied from a one-two-three inning, looking for a little congratulations from his veteran catcher and Kevin Costner fires back at him, "Your fastball was up; your curveball was hanging. In the show, they woulda ripped you."
I've never felt stronger about retaining Cassell. He probably won't average more than 30 mpg next year, and 26 mpg the next, but as a third guard in the rotation and virtual player-coach, I don't know how you can't throw a 2/$12M offer on the table.
John R'.s prescription -- "Cut out the PUJIT crap, Mobley hit one shot please, figure out how to get Kaman the ball more often where he wants it..." -- pretty much summed it up. And tonight, PUJITs were traded for deliberate sets worked for high-percentage shots; Mobley posted up all night on PHX's defenseless guards; and Kaman got the ball against Diaw in the box.