Even though Elton's performance playing out of position on the offensive end - 5 field goals, 5 turnovers, 1 FT - left a lot to be desired, almost every other variable in the Clipper offense seemed to click. In addition, the Clippers addressed their demons from Game Three - The Nugs on the offensive glass and Clipper turnovers. Though the Clippers still got beat in these categories, they weren't mauled (8-5 advantage to Denver on the offensive glass, 18 Clipper turnovers - 4 of which were well-intentioned, aggressive-minded offensive fouls).
Before we take a closer look at the crucial 3:31 spurt that placed the game firmly in the Clippers' control, a few broad notes:
- Welcome to the Shaun Livingston coming out party.
Sam Cassell on Shaun (LA Times): "There was a point they wanted to put me back in the game, and I told Mike to let him play," Cassell said. "This is good for Shaun. This is on-the-job experience."
"He was exhausted, he was a little tired after the game, but he's never played at this level. He ran this ballclub, he made me proud ... he made 'Old Pops' proud."
Saying that a point guard can "see the floor" is among those canonical basketball clichés that have practically lost their meaning. Kinda like saying a guy "plays well above the rim." But at 6'7", I think it's safe to say that, cliché or not, Shaun has a built-in chip...or something that allows him to know where each of the other 4 guys (and 5 defenders) is on the floor at every instant.
Check out the final Clipper possession of the first half (the fact that it wasn't a set play makes it all the more impressive):
Holding for the final shot, Shaun dribbles down to about 5.5 on the clock, then penetrates. Denver is in a 1-2-2. Drawing three defenders (Boykins, Buckner [high right post] and Najera [low right post]), Shaun knows to look right. And sure enough, Kaman slashes baseline, Shaun passes out of the triple-team and finds Kaman who jams it unmolested with 2.7 remaining.
Passing out of a triple team is no small feat, and when you have a 19-year-old kid on your roster that can do it...well...get that deposit down for '06-'07.
- Since I've been killing him here, let me say it right off - Corey Maggette played phenomenally tonight. He showed patience, a willingness to play within the flow of the Clipper offense and he looked for the extra pass in the half-court. Corey recognized that, playing at the shooting guard, he had a distinct size advantage much of the night and used it to his advantage. Watch him zip a pass to Shaun in the post on the first possession in the second quarter. Corey assisted on the next Clipper score, too, recognizing the Kaman-Evans mismatch on the block. Good stuff. Two Corey assists and the Clippers open up their first substantial lead at 7. Seeing that 11-12 in the FT column beside Maggette's name means that he's picking his spots where he's certain he can break down the defense. Turnovers for Corey? Only one - and it was as much Cat's fault as it was Corey's.
19 points in 9 shots with only 1 turnover? That's some efficient basketball.
Corey's focus on the defensive end of the floor was evident. I know he didn't draw the toughest assignment on the floor in Greg Buckner, but that being the case, Corey made really smart "help" decisions. And in the second quarter when it was time to chase Patterson along the baseline, Corey was up to the task.
At 8:34 in the second quarter, the Clippers led Denver 31-30. The Clippers then proceeded to convert on their next seven offensive possessions, opening the lead up to twelve. Though Denver closed the gap briefly to eight points in the third quarter, the Clippers quickly stretched out the lead again to double digits and never looked back.
Those seven second-quarter possessions (Livingston-Maggette-Q-Vlad-EB):
- Livingston leaves the ball at the right elbow with Vlad, then quickly takes the middle side post against Earl Boykins. It took Shaun a couple of games to get used to posting Boykins, but now every time down the court, Earl starts to look like a human drumstick in one of those Looney Tunes cartoons to Shaun. Evans comes over baseline to help, but Shaun's long arms find Elton - who now has position over Patterson - in the post and delivers EB a bullet baseline pass. Count it + 1. (Side note: Somehow EB, in missing the first two FTA manages to draw Denver prematurely into the lane and gets a third attempt, which he finally sinks).
- Coming downcourt, Maggette has a lot of room at the right wing spot. A less engaged Corey would heave the ball up, but here Corey recognizes that the only thing between him and the rim is Reggie Evans, whom Corey could take off the dribble carrying Remembrance of Things Past in his other hand. That's exactly what Corey does (well...not the Remembrance part). Corey Maggette at his very finest. And One. Corey almost makes me feel guilty for all the shit I've been flinging his way all week.
- So...what about Vlad and Q Ross? I'm glad you asked: Livingston brings it up left side, gets a textbook pick from Vlad up top. Vlad rolls to the Garden Spot - his home. When Vlad sees that Miller is sleeping on Ross over on the weak side, Vlad dishes it over to him...does't have to, but Patterson is closing quickly up top, so it's 6/one-half-dozen. Ross good from 18 (or, again, what Ralph refers to as "the shot Quinton Ross has to make").
- Livingston and Maggette get out in transition. Maggette gets a wide-open look at a three, but passes it off the Ross in the corner. Patterson closes quickly on Ross, so Q passes it back out to Shaun to reset. Nothing new here: Vlad sets a high pick for Shaun, then rolls out to the perimeter. Shaun dishes; Vlad hits. Three points. Clippers by 10.
- It was probably the first set you learned at the Y or the JCC - the elbow pick-and-roll. You've seen it a thousand times this season: Elton faces up from 14. Good.
Was it Greg Anthony who said that Denver was the superior defensive team?
Timeout Denver. Per KTLA's "Up Close & Personal" feature, did you know that Shaun Livingston's favorite movie is Scarface? That's pretty impressive for a kid that was born in, like, 1997.
- Shaun dribbles up the left side. When EB comes to the ball, then retreats to the left elbow, he draws not only his defender, but Boykins with him. This opens up a wide-open 14-footer for Shaun, which he hits. Nice, nice recognition.
- Prettiest possession of them all, as the Clippers run a perfect New York Screen. Maggette picks up the ball from Livingston, who moves down low off EB's down screen. Elton rolls, taking his spot on the right block (and Livingston has now set up shop on the left block). Maggette swings it right wing to Ross, who feeds a nice entry pass to Elton. When EB draws the double team, Livingston is left all alone in the left post. Passing out of the double team is no problem for EB, because Boykins is 4'11", and, accordingly, Elton finds Shaun underneath for the lay-in.
(5:01) Clippers 48, Denver 36
At this point, Denver pretty much implodes. I had Ralph and Mike on in the back, with the ESPN feed in the kitchen. While I was fixing some dinner during the third quarter, all I could hear was Tom Tolbert calling the series for the Clippers on account of the Nuggets' disheartened play. Musburger laments a poor playoff performance by Denver; Carmelo is the invisible man, etc, etc, etc.
Whatever the case, Game Five is Monday night. If the Clippers turn in an average performance or better, they'll close up shop and have a week to rest Mobley, Kaman and Maggette. And I can enjoy the Dodgers-Padres series without incident.