A summary of the various lineups the Clippers threw at PHX, substitution by substitution, and how each produced in the first half of Game Four:
- Cassell-Mobley-Maggette-Radmanovic-Brand (Starting Lineup)
The Suns convert on their first four offensive possessions. Right off the bat, the Suns go to work against the smaller Clipper lineup - first working some open space for Bell against a smaller, slower Cassell, then a high S/R for Diaw, who uses Brand's reluctance to leave the paint (he's the Clips' only big man) to sink an open 13-footer. And PHX is prepared to press the issue by posting Thomas against Maggette - who isn't a post defender. The Clippers do a better job closing up the lane as the quarter progresses, but from the outset it appears it could be a long night.
The good news on the other end is that Cassell is neutralizing Marion by running the side S/R for Brand at his favorite spot. Because the Matrix is so intent to stay on Cassell, Brand has plenty of open court to work against the slower Thomas. In addition, Sam decides that the most advantageous matchups on the floor are him against Nash (he takes Stevie to the basket repeatedly) and EB against the slower Thomas. Cassell pulls one of his crafty vet pump fake/lean-in trips to the line.
On the other end, Bell is heating up - there's no possible way for Sam to rotate over. The Clips are lucky Raja misses a couple of open looks.
Some more good news: Despite giving up size, the Clippers win the offensive rebounding battle 3-2 while this lineup is on the floor.
The Clips stay in it. When Livingston checks in for Vlad...
PHX leads 23-19. (Suns +4)
- Cassell-Mobley-Maggette-Livingston-Brand (1st, 4:37)
Clipper fans, meet your newest power forward, Shaun Livingston.
Something interesting happens here. For the next three minutes, the Suns -- who were on pace to score 40 points in the quarter -- record only 2 points. The basket is a Barbosa-Marion elbow S/R. The Clips double Barbosa and Maggette is left out to dry with Marion thundering down the lane.
Meanwhile, Mobley recognizes a strong mismatch on Leandro Barbosa and begins to post up. Mobley doesn't fill up the box score in Game Four, but played a nice "little things" game. And Corey Maggette has started to heat up his catch-and-shoot game with a couple of 18-footers.
Highlight of this sequence: Livingston blocking Nash's layup. Clipper fans - peer into your crystal ball. Imagine your 6'7" point guard locked up for a seven-year contract. Does it give you chills?
Clips lead 29-26 (Clips +7)
- Livingston-Mobley-Ross-Maggette-Brand (1st, 1:47)
Ross spells Cassell and the Clips lock down defensively now, as the Suns finish the quarter 1 for 3 from the field. The two misses are awful contested jumpers. And Diaw does a remarkable Elton Brand imitation to hit from 15.
On the other end, the Clips work the inside-out game to perfection. Brand recognizes the triple-team and kicks it out to a wide open Q - who hits "the shot he has to make."
The quarter ends...
Clips lead 33-28 (Clips +2)
- Livingston-Maggette-Ross-Singleton-Brand (2nd, 12:00)
Jumpin' James gets his first minutes. Very little happens here other than Elton is a little slow on his perimeter rotation; he seems to be conflicted - as the only big, does he guard the paint, or get out on his man?
After a bad pass that results in a Barbosa PUJIT, Dunleavy spells him...
Clips lead 34-30 (Clips -1)
- Cassell-Maggette-Livingston-Ross-Singleton (2nd, 10:44)
Anyone with reservations about a small lineup is now officially chewing off his limbs. And other than a circus three-pointer by Shaun as the clock expires, the Clippers don't score. Fortunately, the Suns are limited to a three-pointer on a beautiful off-ball screen by Nash that lets Thomas drift out to the arc and get open.
After two Corey turnovers in a row and a generally inert Clipper offense that hasn't run a coherent set all quarter, it's time to get Brand and Mobley back in the game.
Clips lead 37-33 (Even)
- Cassell-Mobley-Maggette-Livingston-Brand (2nd, 8:12)
Here is the +7 squad from the first quarter reunited for their second tour.
A couple of observations: Mobley is playing terrific defense on Diaw off the high screen. Maybe this is the reason that Dunleavy is pulling away from the trap with Mobley and allowing him to take Diaw on the switch. The one instance that Mobley doubles, Diaw hit the J before Livingston can rotate over.
On the offensive end, Brand is abusing both Nash off the switch and James Jones whenever he's left in the post to defend EB. I'm not sure why TT is on Mobley, but that's where he's set up. Livingston gets into the act, too - posting up Nash. What about Maggette? Well, since he's not really a post guy, why not just have him slash through the Suns defense and draw two shots.
In short, everyone on the Clips' roster is maximizing his strengths - and the Clippers are spending a lot of time at the stripe. Somehow, Dunleavy is proving that you can both go small and control tempo. Who knew?
But all good things must come to an end, and after building an 11 point lead, the Clips let the Suns back into the game with a 7-2 run, punctuated by a little Diaw screen on Cassell that allows Raja just enough room to sink a three. Nash blows by Maggette who...where...I have no idea whom or what he was guarding out on the wing. The next time down, Nash takes Mobley off the dribble.
Time to bring in some defensive help - Q arrives on the scene.
Clips lead 50-46 (Even)
- Cassell-Mobley-Ross-Maggette-Brand (2nd, 3:18)
A nice inside-out play from Brand and Maggette. On the other end, Ross is denying the high S/R, so Diaw decides...well...I'll just drive the lane. Easy layup. Then Mobley goes back to work in the paint, followed by that annoyingly perfect PHX Angle Corner play...except PHX starts this one with Marion in the post because it draws, like, eight Clippers into the paint...then it's elementary from there - pass to an open Raja Bell in the corner - three points.
After that, Maggette performs his best Cassell imitation, throwing his body into TT. Two easy points at the stripe.
Clips lead 57-51 (Clips +2)
- Cassell-Mobley-Ross-Vlad-Brand (2nd, 1:31)
The Clips get two stops - one nice, one lucky: Q forces Nash into an airball and, after a Vlad miss from three, Diaw gets down the gut of the lane to the rim and his layup spins out.
On the offensive end, the Clips call for one of the smartest plays of the night - post the 6'10" Vlad against the 3'9" Barbosa. Before Vlad can even get set, Barbosa has fouled him. Vlad sinks both.
Clips lead 59-51 (Clips +2)
Cassell-Livingston-Ross-Vlad-Brand (2nd, 0:33)
The Clips force Nash into a 25-footer that he misses and with the half winding down, no Sun blocks out Shaun off the Cassell miss, so Shaun gets the easy tip-in.
At the half...
Clips lead 61-51 (Clips +2)