This afternoon was one of those games in which the box score doesn't tell the story. When you look at NOOCH's very respectable 45.6% FG percentage [the Clippers allowed opponents to 43.5% last season] and the fact that they were above 50% for much of the game, you'd naturally assume that the Clippers had a lax game on the defensive end. In turn, looking at Chris Paul's
8-12 9-13 from the floor, you'd conclude that he was scoring at will.
Both stats are flawed. Though NOOCH was relatively efficient with the shots they were able to get off, they turned the ball over 26 times. Some of these were of the Sunday hangover variety, but the majority stemmed from a tight Clipper defense that denied NOOCH basic entry passes into the post and penetration through which Chris Paul makes his living. On the latter, credit Quinton Ross, who stayed in front of a frustrated Chris Paul all afternoon. Dunleavy went with Q until Paul left the game; when Paul returned with 4:24 in the second quarter, Dunleavy brought Q back. The decision paid off. Though Paul converted nine of his 13 FG attempts, it's the 13 number that's notable given that his lowest output for the season is 12 [and the final attempt was with :08 remaining in the game with both teams heading for their respective benches]. It wasn't as if Paul was getting to the line either - only five FTA. On top of that, Paul turned the ball over six times [two of them Q Ross steals], tying his most TOs for the season. But the big number? Three assists. The last time Paul had so few? January 6 of this year, a game in which he played only 17 minutes.
Elton had a mini-breakout game with 22 & 10 with a couple of blocks. Since we're all eager to see EB be EB again, let's take a look at what worked in his 8-12 effort. The eight FGs:
- In the game's first minute, Elton sets up on the right wing. He hands the ball off the Kaman, then cuts crosscourt, getting a screen from Q Ross on the tailing Tyson Chandler, and sets up on the left block. Mobley, on the left wing, feeds it into EB. Chandler has caught up to Brand, but seeing only one-on-one coverage, Brand dribbles fiercely into the lane and lands a nice 7-foot runner.
No double-team = no problem.
- It's been over four and a half minutes since the last Clipper score [see above]. This one is vintage, lunch-pail EB. The Clips set up Kaman one-on-one against David West. This should be a good matchup for Kaman in that he's got three inches on West, who isn't a superlative post defender anyway. Kaman shows a nice spin move, but seems to hold his left-hander just a half-second too long. By the time he launches the shot, Chandler has closed and he's got two sets of hands in his face. Still, it isn't horrible and it's the sort of shot he had down cold by the end of last season. If the Clips really want to get EB going, they need an effective Chris Kaman in the post.
Kaman's shot bounces out. Since both NOOCH big men are doubling Chris, Elton squirts his way to the glass and is there to collect the miss. EB dribbles it back to the left block where Peja picks him up. Seeing Peja covering you one-on-one is like seeing your grandma walk through the door when you're a kid. You know there's a crisp dollar bill or at least something sweet waiting for you. EB replicates the sweeping drive from his first FG and hits another little runner.
- Seconds before this FG, EB gets solid position in the post against David West. West is whistled for the foul. Just as well for NOOCH, because had the whistle not sounded, Cassell and Brand would've made mincemeat of the NOOCH defense. After the whistle, NOOCH puts Tyson Chandler on EB in the left low post. Pretty much the same move as before - a sweeping drive into the lane, up-and-in from eight feet...and the foul. EB seems less apt to pass out today. Probably a good thing.
- On the controlled break, Livingston leaves it for EB at the top of the arc. Brand dribbles a couple of times toward the foul line where he's met by Cedric Simmons [didn't know he left State after just two years. A little undersized to be leaving an ACC program early, don't you think?]. EB sends it back out to the wing [TT], then sets up on the left block. One-on-one against Simmons is an easy decision: Another sweep [again, no help from David West], and another easy little seven-foot hook.
- Elton converts four FTs on two possessions to close the half. On the first, he just schools Cedric Simmons again on the block. On the second, the clock is winding down. At :03, Livingston threads the needle and finds EB, who has just gotten free of Hilton Armstrong [birthplace: Peekskill, NY; is this the first P.H.S.-on-P.H.S. in NBA history?].
As John So said at the time, "how many young NBA point guards can make that pass?"
- NOOCH, for whatever reason, has decided not to double EB off the ball, nor to send much help after he's established position. Odd. Like many quality EB games, the narrative is getting repetitive: EB gets left low post position on West. Q feeds him the ball. EB dribbles left, spins right and hits the little left-handed seven-foot hook. What's important here is Elton's forcefulness. He's looking not nearly as tentative.
- NOOCH is on a 13-4 run and the Clips need a bucket badly. After an aborted high S/R with Shaun/EB, the rock ends up in Q's hands at the top of the circle. Q misses the open 16-footer, but EB collects the garbage for the easy putback. Nothing fancy: Elton merely outhustles and outworks the NOOCH bigs.
- One of the prettiest plays of the game. Maggette holds the ball up top, as Thomas draws his guy away from the paint with EB setting up on the high left post against Peja [huh?]. When the lane frees up, EB cuts sharply toward the hoop and Maggette fires a bullet right on target. Slam Dunk.
- Cassell/Brand high S/R. Cassell's pass tips off Chris Paul's hands, but luckily ends up in Elton's. EB passes it back out to Q on the right wing, to TT up top. During the reset, EB has set up shop in the right post. TT feeds him and Elton looks to have a clear shot, but deliberates and Chandler closes - a glimpse of the tentative EB from last week. EB dribbles down the side of the lane and hits an arcing jumper from six feet over Chandler.
All in all, EB's best effort of the season. You can't help but wonder what Byron Scott was thinking by laying off the double-teams. Something tells me that Jerry Sloan won't be following suit on Tuesday night in SLC.