The Clippers lost this game on the glass at the defensive end. During Cleveland's torrid fourth quarter, they got three tip-ins over a two minute stretch; sandwiched in between that series of tips were two easy layups – one by Ira Newble and the other from Damon Jones. In other words, the Cavs' shot chart was atrocious. Over a seven possession period, the Cavs converted exactly one first shot and got to the line for a pair of free throws; but they managed to pick up eight additional points by grabbing loose rebounds. I'd break down the 10-0 run except that I don’t think it's terribly revealing to meticulously look at possessions that result in put-backs. Some of it was bad luck -- for instance, when Kaman blocked James' shot and his momentum carried him too far underneath the basket to recover for the loose ball. On a subsequent possession, Ilgauskas dragged Kaman far enough away from the basket – and Z has to be picked up as far away as 18 feet – to open up space underneath. Another was on a 4-1 break that Jones couldn't convert – but the trailer picked up the garbage. On the final put-back, Newble was able to squirt past Ross for the tip.
Meanwhile, on the offensive end, the Clips couldn't execute anything. The Cavs are a remarkably strong interior defensive squad with Ilgauskas, Gooden, Newble, and James – who is as good as anyone at collapsing on penetrators. Tim Thomas spaced on a basic give-n-go with Cassell out on the arc with a negligent hand-off that went out of bounds. Wretched. Maggette got himself wedged on a baseline drive and threw up a ridiculous reverse that resulted in another transition basket for Cleveland. Kaman went an eternity without getting a touch. I don't want to get too effusive – especially on a night when the Clippers laid an egg -- but Kaman is working unbelievably good opportunities for himself with heady decisions. Take the three-point-play against Ilgauskas after he reentered the game in the fourth:
The Clippers dump it into Chris just off the mid-left post against Ilgauskas. As Newble comes down from the foul stripe to double him, Chris spins baseline with a beautiful drop step away from the double-team, switches to his left hand and goes up with a sick reverse layup – and draws the foul.
Again, this isn't about picking up stats leftover from Elton's absence. Kaman has expanded his game, irrespective of whatever additional room he has to maneuver within the post. 10 for 15 from the field; once again, he recorded more blocks than turnovers; one foul in 38 minutes; 88% from the line this season. I embarrassed myself during the season preview on The Jones last season by stating that Kaman was among the best centers in the league. Skeets spared me a lashing – there was merely a deafening silence. But it isn't like Chris is merely padding his line with garbage putbacks. Every score tonight with possibly one exception was the result of a skilled move against one of the three best interior defenses in the L. This is real. So include Kim Hughes during your holiday gift-giving barrage.
Given what they have to work with, the Cavs do a nice job with their reserves. Take Cedric Simmons. Basically, the Cleveland coaching staff at the start of the season told the guy, "You have one job on this team: Create space for LeBron in the halfcourt." And you know what? The guy set at least three perfect screens for LeBron in his nine minutes on the court.
John and I got upgraded to front row center court right behind Ralph and Mike. Watching the game is a visceral experience from there – you hear everything…but most of all, you have a direct read on the tone of the game at a given moment. There's an electric force field that surrounds the court during an NBA game, and when you're that close, you're inside it. I'll have more tomorrow on some of our observations. The most notable takeaway – hat tip, John – LeBron James is at least a half-step quicker than anyone else on the court.