For all the dramatics at the end of regulation and in overtime - a gutsy win by a team that's really matured over the past year - the subplots within the game were as interesting as the sum of the parts:
- 33 (11-19) (11-14), 12 (5 off, 7, def), 5 steals. Doesn't that look like an Elton Brand line? More important, it looked like the definitive Elton Brand game: Patented face-up jumpers from the left side of the key, 19 shots, beastly put-backs on the offensive glass, good decision-making out of the double-team. Brand worked for his points; Randolph and, once Kaman left the game, Dalembert wrestled with EB all night in the post. Whether by Dunleavy's design or good floor instinct, I thought the Clips did a nice job last night of spreading the floor when EB had the ball down low, and forcing the Sixers to make tough decisions on the double team. Again, I'm continually surprised when coaches don't take the Avery Johnson/Nate McMillan tack by doubling EB anytime he drifts below the stripe, but I sense Dunleavy has made that adjustment as a response and it's now a much tougher decision for the opposing chalkboard.
- Quinton Ross played 48 minutes and absolutely smothered AI all night. AI was held to below 40% from the floor and committed six turnovers, his most since opening night. Don't get me wrong: AI performed some freakish moves to the basket. His first step may be among the quickest in league history. But I don't know if AI was able to find the weak side off the dribble more than once all night. Q. not only denied him penetration, but his long arms cut off AI's cross-court passing lanes.
Q's willingness to drive to the hole in the halfcourt demonstrated a real confidence in his station on the team. Last season, I sensed that Q felt as if he didn't quite have permission or clearance to take his guy off the dribble. But now it seems that Dunleavy has told him, "if they give it to you, take it." Two cases in point last night:
With the Clips down two with 5:57 remaining in the game, Livingston brings the ball up and gets a halfhearted high screen from EB. Shaun takes Green a couple of steps into the key, then kicks it back out to TT at the top of the arc, who dishes it off to Q on the left wing. Q immediately gets AI in the air, and drives past him. Now, this is where Q generally kicks it back out, whether an opponent collapses on his or not. But here, every Sixer stays home. So Q does the correct thing - he drives all the way to the rim. Korver, who has the defensive prowess of an Eames recliner, actually chooses to step back out on TT than put a finger on Q. That's how much room opponents, in the closing minutes of a close game, give Q in the halfcourt. By the time Dalembert realizes that Q is on the doorstep, all he can do is commit a hard foul. Q sinks two. Game tied.
Again in OT, with :54 left and the game tied, Ross gets Ollie one-one-one. Q drives and, like the previous set, nobody collapses. Ross is quicker than Ollie and he makes the Philly defense pay with a breezy driving layup. Clips by two with under a minute remaining.
- Corey had one of those productive, yet totally measured efforts. When the Clips couldn't buy a bucket in the first half down 15, Corey went to work off the dribble and got to the line. The stat sheet will show him 0-4 from the floor in the second quarter with two turnovers, but he went to the stripe three times and scored five points. He managed to keep the Sixers' best defender, Andre Iguodala busy, and took down five rebounds.
I really like Dunleavy's flexibility with the rotation. Last night when Cat's shots weren't falling and he wasn't able to establish position in the post, Dunleavy didn't hesitate going with Maggette most of the way. Having Ross and Maggette on the floor together does a lot of nice things for your basketball team - particularly when Livingston is out there, too. Then, you can play the opponent's two best scorers straight up and Maggette becomes less a liability in the halfcourt defensively.
- Shaun made a couple of crucial mistakes last night. The horrible bounce pass intercepted by Korver with 2:51 remaining in OT, a sequence that resulted in a Korver three-pointer and a two point Sixers lead, was a massive fuckup, as was the charge against Iverson with 1:04 left in regulation. Despite all that, Livingston, as he's done virtually every game, did a lot of important work defensively and has emerged -- indisputably in my opinion -- the Clippers' second best defender.
- Chris looked better last night, more into the flow of the game, and with a bouncier step. He didn't do a great job on Dalembert in the first quarter, but overall he improved. That may be daylight we see ahead.
There's much credence to the old good-teams-win-ugly cliché. Normally, I'm not one for pop-psych sports theories, but I couldn't help feel like this was a game the Clippers would've lost 18 months ago. This newfound confidence generally gets attributed to Sam Cassell's "teaching the team how to win," but it's more than that now. For all the talk about veteran leadership, it's team defense in crucial possessions - what teams like San Antonio and Detroit made the hallmark of their championship runs - that's different now.
Clipperblog leaves for the Maui Invitational this evening. He'll be canvassing the island for a joint that'll have the Clippers-Lakers game on Tuesday night. In the meantime, Clipperblog contributor, John So, will take you through both the Lakers and Sonics games. Be nice.