Sam Cassell has always been a heady player, but at 38, his basketball IQ is off the charts. At 6:00 in the first quarter, Sacramento settles into a zone for the first time. They have Artest at the top of the zone with Sam dribbling down court [Mike Bibby and Kevin Martin on the wings; Brad Miller and Mikki Moore down low].
For Cassell, this is so simple: Dribble past Artest – who won't chase him into the back part of the zone – pull up to about 11 feet, and take the open jumper before Moore has time to slide up from the block. In six seconds, Sam Cassell has broken the Sacramento zone. He recognizes that the zone commands the backcourt defenders give up on penetration, but the trees aren't going to have time to step out to 10 feet on a quick PUJ.
Cassell isn't the star of the game by any stretch. He finishes with 12 points on 4-10 FGs, though he dishes out seven assists. While I don't ascribe a lot of worth to intangibles in sports, Sam's instincts on the court – even when he's not shooting well…and, in those instances, when he's not overshooting -- undoubtedly make the Clippers a far more competent offensive squad. The Clippers are reasonably mediocre 10-14 in games in which Sam logs more than 10 minutes, and a cataclysmic 3-11 when he doesn't.
Something else out of tonight: Thornton's talent isn't raw. His game is very developed for a rookie. Sure, he'll learn to work more in the post but, by and large, his game is there. The trick for Al is shot selection -- learning how to turn a 7-17 night into a 7-14 night. He needs to put his three worst FGAs of the game in his back pocket or, at the very least, learn how to manufacture a trip to the stripe when the shot isn't there, à la Maggette. The project is already underway. In January, Thornton is shooting .489 from the field, which is stellar for anyone outside the pivot. The guy goes (7-17) and (9-11) and doesn't turn the ball over once. Favorite Thornton set of the night [pre- ordures]:
- [4th, 9:26] This is positively Wilkinsian. The Clips are in transition as Mobley gets the rock ahead to Thornton on the left side. Artest sets himself on the left edge of the key, waiting for Thornton. Al advances with a left-handed dribble. When he first makes contact with Artest at about 10 feet, Thornton collects the ball, makes a full 360 spin with a right pivot, sets that left foot right on the restricted arc, bounces off Artest to create just enough space for himself to go up with a strong right handed hook.
Two points and the foul. The Clippers open up their then-biggest lead of the night.
Chris Kaman records his third 20-20 game of the season, and has a beastly night against Brad Miller, whom he routinely shreds on defense. Best Kaman set:
- [3rd, 10:53] The Clips trail by one here early in the second half. The Kings are in a man-to-man. Kaman sets up on the low left block. The ball goes into Tim Thomas at the right elbow. What happens next is really encouraging and a little reminiscent of last March – Corey Maggette moves low to set a down screen on Brad Miller while the ball goes back out to Cuttino Mobley up top. This allows Chris to slide up and collect the ball from Mobley. Artest picks up Kaman on the switch from the right, but Kaman wisely spins left, then takes off with an easy drive to the rim for a layup.
This might be the best set of the night and it's so, so simple: Good off the ball work against one of the league's better defenders. What's frustrating about Maggette is that his body is perfectly equipped to be a lateral force in the offense on cross-screens, pick-and-pops, etc. Tonight, he does a nice job in that role, and still works 13 FGAs from the field – several of them in transition. Corey has one of his better games of the season, turnovers notwithstanding. He finishes beautifully in transition, he beats Artest in the post, Artest off the dribble, and sniffs out the zone to get himself an open 3PA which he drills.
Corey's efficiency is one of his best attributes, but there's something to be said for finding a quality shot as a first priority, then looking to draw contact if nothing's there – and not the other way around. And it's easier on the body.