Tonight was doubly depressing because (a) the Clippers, after trailing by 17, worked hard to get themselves into a position to win the game, and could have.  (b) For about 90 minutes, we got a through-the-looking-glass peek at the parallel 2006-2007 NBA season, the one where the Clippers are 37-26 and using their defensive smarts, and the recurring monster game by Brand, to keep themselves in competition with Houston for the 5 seed.  In that respect, the fourth quarter, until the Alston 3PM, was like basketball crack – a glorious, transporting, evanescent flash…and over all too quickly. 

We saw the single most electrifying shot of the season --- by Corey Maggette on the break resulting from the controlled tip of the Yao-Cat jump ball. Corey, driving down the right sideline at full-speed, is pushed by Alston toward the sideline.  Before he tumbles to the floor, Corey sweeps the ball across his body, heaving the rock at the backboard.  The ball banks in perfectly.

We also saw the featured clip on Elton’s reel: With one minute left in the game and the Clippers down one, Brand has the ball a bit off the left elbow out on the wing.  With his left hip facing the basket, Elton dribbles with his right against Yao Ming.  Alston, whose man is Daniel Ewing at the top of the arc, is cheating to his right over on Elton.   After Alston shifts his weight back to his left leg, Elton ignites, then explodes past Yao through the gut of the lane with a single dribble, upward for the slam.   Rather than try to shoot over his much larger defender, EB uses his speed and agility to get around him.  More than that, though, Elton does what guys like him are supposed to do when their team is down one with a minute left.  Elton takes over. 

Only fifteen seconds before that, we witnessed one of the more wince-inducing moments of the season when Ewing gets his pocket picked by Alston, relinquishing the lead.  And, of course, there was the inexcusable blown cover by Mobley on Alston Head that resulted in the game-winning 3PM from the left corner with :12.2 left. 

I know it’s weird to be grateful for having your heart ripped out in a game the Clips could’ve won – and maybe its because I long ago conceded the season – but this feels much better than it has the past eight weeks.  The Clips aren’t going to recover overnight.  First they have to get clean.  Then they have to get back into their normal, daily routine – just prove themselves responsible – maybe some meetings. Then we can start talking about their getting a full-time job, much less dating and all the other stuff.  Playing good basketball against quality teams is a start.  You don’t have to be satisfied with the outcome, but you can acknowledge the progress.