Clippers lead series 1-0

Style points don't count in the playoffs, so I'll take the W and ignore whatever the studio crews are saying today about the Clippers' near-collapse last night. 

There are plenty of details to be concerned about and they're the usual litany of complaints - silly turnovers down the stretch, getting outhustled on both ends, horrendous shot selection in the fourth quarter.

I don't need to tell you that the Clippers hit only one field goal after the 5:00 mark of the fourth quarter - and that was a Kaman layup/three-point play at 4:09.  I don't need to tell you that in the seven possessions after that, the Clippers turned the ball over four times, got lucky on a Boykins foul call, missed a Quentin Ross baseline jumper (:12 left on the shot clock) and a Cassell 25-footer (:11 left on the shot clock).  Seven horrible possessions. 

You watched the game; you saw it. 

And I'm certain that Dunleavy will sit the guys down and everyone will watch the fourth quarter in horror. 

But there are plenty of things to be pleased about.  Most notably, the Clippers controlled the tempo all night, limiting Denver to 10 fast break points.  Playoff basketball is all about getting the other team to play your game.  Despite the fourth quarter collapse, the Clippers proved that they're better than Denver at imposing their template on the game.  To be certain, this will be challenged on Denver's floor, but for now, the Clippers win this event.  You think maybe home court is important? 

On top of that, the Clippers contained ‘Melo with a variety of defensive looks. ‘Melo is electrifying, but he has trouble interpreting defense and, for whatever reason, he hasn't been able to crack the Clippers' double team.  When he does pass out, it's either to a non-shooter or to a guard 22 feet from the basket whom the Clippers quickly step out on.   

Clipperblog was going to review every possession of the fourth quarter, but felt that it would be more constructive to break down the game player by player.  Each item on"The Bad" list has an answer, from EB's alligator arms to Maggette's selfishness.

Elton Brand

The Good:  Elton dominated the floor in the first half.  He was a force on the offensive end and a menace to Denver in the half-court defensively with his presence in the paint.  Even when he was laying brick in the second half, he was as important as anyone in making last night a half-court game.  Like Tim Duncan, EB has the uncanny ability to control the tempo and last night was a half-court Elton Brand game.  With a few more field goals and/or trips to the line from Brand, the Clips win this game going away and are celebrating their superiority in the half-court.

When Brand wasn't hitting, he found Kaman in the post off the double-team, racking up five assists - mostly coming out of that set. 

The Bad:   Was Brand really 8-16?  Really?  It seemed like missed every shot in the second half - which he did, save a single 16-footer at 6:58 in the third quarter.  Otherwise, Brand was a cipher down the stretch. LeBron, Tony Parker, Dwayne Wade and Shaq forced the issue in their respective games on Saturday.  Elton disappeared.  Three free throws in the final 18 minutes.  And a pair of alligator arms - every shot short. 

Elton, you've waited seven years for this.  Well, guess what?  It's all-you-can-eat.  Pile your plate high.  Go through the buffet line twice. 

Though Clipper fans may not believe it, a bunch of those Denver offensive rebounds were Elton failing to block out.  And when you consider that he had only four defensive rebounds and that K-Mart had five offensive rebounds, it becomes a lot clearer.

Clipperblog isn't turning sour on Elton Brand; it's saying what it suspects Sam Cassell will say to EB at the practice facility this afternoon; it's challenging EB to, in the words of Ebby Calvin 'Nuke' LaLoosh, announce his presence with authority beyond the first quarter, to do what every superstar in the L does down the stretch, which is take over basketball games.


Sam Cassell

The Good:  Without Cassell, the Clippers unravel earlier and don't recover.  It's interesting to note that Sam took only 11 shots in 33 minutes, hitting 6 of them and getting to the line three times (6-7), proving further that Cassell knew where and when to shoot and when to get the cast involved.  Cassell picked his spots beautifully last night. Maybe it's Denver's lack of shooters, but I was relatively pleased with Sam on the other end, meaning he didn't kill us on defense.  Dunleavy chose either to sub in Shaun against Boykins or to switch a quicker defender on him.  Justin made the point at halftime that Denver presents a good defensive matchup for Cassell because, Boykins aside, they're not a terribly quick team.  Miller wasn't getting those drives with his first step, but off of high screens. 

Clipperblog doesn't have press access (yet), but I imagine that Sam was the Voice of God in the locker room and in practice all week.  Though they were jittery (ya think?) in the fourth quarter, the Clips came out anything but tight before a national audience, and a large part of that was having a grown-up on the floor.  I'm not generally an "intangibles" guy; I think there are very empirical reasons why basketball and baseball games are won and lost (Clipperblog has no idea why football games are won and lost), but I assume that having a coach on the floor who can also shoot from beyond 18 feet and get to the line must be an empirical asset, don't you? 

The Bad:  I never thought I would say this, but I actually wish that Sam would have shot more. 


Chris Kaman

The Good: Chris recovered from a miserable first half on both ends of the court to be a dominant force for the Clippers in the post during the second half.  Rather than get frustrated, Kaman persisted and waited for his moment...which came when Denver realized they could no longer leave Mobley open on the perimeter.  At that point, Chris went to work on the block.  He rebounded well and defended Camby fairly well in face-up situations.   

The Bad:  The farther Chris is drawn away from the basket on the defensive end, the less effective he is.  Though Camby didn't have a stellar offensive night, he was able to clear the lane for Miller, whose penetration was the lynchpin of the Denver offense.  That shouldn't be laid at Kaman's feet, but Chris needs to realize when a perimeter trap makes sense and when he should hedge - particularly when you're playing a team that doesn't shoot particularly well.   


Quinton Ross

The Good:  Despite the goose egg, Ross did what he's done all season, namely provide lock-down defense and solid support in the Clippers' offensive sets.  Once again, Ross proved that he can competently guard any 1-3 in the league, and can go under picks and recover from switches/traps/mismatches defending the pick-and-roll as well as anyone.  I don't recall anyone in recent memory for the Clips who has better instincts on defense.  We're luck to have him. 

The Bad:  Two mistakes on the offensive end that could've been critical in the final minutes, one an errant bullet pass to Kaman along the baseline, the other an ill-advised shot with :12 left on the shot clock. 


Cuttino Mobley

The Good:  Mobley was the star of the game for the Clippers.  He shot brilliantly and his twin three-pointers in the latter half of the third quarter could've and should've been the daggers that put the game out of reach had the Clippers stepped on Denver's throat.  In addition, Cat was a surprisingly effective defender on ‘Melo when Ross wasn't on the floor or when Dunleavy put Ross on the strong side essentially leaving Cat to defend ‘Melo in what seemed to be a matchup zone.  When Denver began to guard Mobley on the arc as they did coming out of the locker room in the second half, what did he do?  He drove through the lane to the rim.

The Bad:  It took a few minutes for Cat to figure out how to respond to Miller off the dribble, costing the Clips a few early points on the defensive end. 


Corey Maggette

The Good:  Seven rebounds.  

*Crickets*

The Bad:  His selfishness both in the half-court and on the break was evident.  Maggette insists that the game conform to his style rather than having his shot selection and contribution conform to what the game demands at the moment.  You want a case study?  Take a look at the first two minutes of the second quarter:

Corey Maggette lost ball.
Corey Maggette makes 20-footer
Corey Maggette misses 18-footer
Kenyon Martin blocks Corey Maggette's shot

The problem with Corey's sling-yourself-into-the-lane-and-hope-for-the-call modus operandi is that, in the playoffs, refs aren't apt to make those calls as frequently.  On his first two defensive possessions of the game, he blew two assignments on Ruben Patterson.

Maggette involves no one else, utilizes no one else and, as a result, it's no surprise that Corey was a -6 for the Clippers in the first half. 

Again in the second half, with the Clips leading by 14, Maggette entered the game.  What's the Clipper lead when he checks out?  4.   A minus 10 for Maggette.

This prompts the question: What do you do with a player who is a -16 in a victory?  Answer:  Find him some minutes during Temps d'Ordures. 


Shawn Livingston

The Good:  If nothing else, Shawn displayed no lack of confidence in his maiden voyage.  At times during the season, we saw some careless passes into traffic, but none of that last night. 

The Bad:  Livingston was a bit disarmed by the smaller, quicker Boykins.  He didn't capitalize on the offensive mismatch, posting up on Earl only a handful of times.  Shaun missed his only two attempts from the stripe. To be certain, Livingston wasn't helped by Maggette. 


Vlad Radmanovic

The Good: Vlad hit his first three-point attempt, and was adequate on the defensive end on rotations.  He made a few nice passes with Denver defenders stepping out on him. 

The Bad:  Vlad turned the ball over three times, most notably that horrible, ill-advised drive down the lane desite the fact that he had (a) Cat wide open on the arc.  (b) Kaman wide open underneath. 

Clipperblog can tell you that, when you watch it on Tivo the morning after, you'll spit your morning coffee onto the Sunday funnies. 

It was, quite simply, one of the worst decisions I've ever seen in a crucial postseason possession. 


Zeljko Rebraca

The Good: Z did what you ask backup centers to do in a short rotation during the playoffs - hold down the fort for 11 minutes while the starter gets a breather.  Though Recraca actually spelled Brand during one of his stints, he played adequate defense and set a couple nice down screens on the offensive end.

The Bad:  Despite his soft hands, Z turned the ball over twice and appeared out of sorts at times. 

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at Game Two adjustments.