Power forwards turning in 8 assists? Little immobile 6'3" point guards putting up a line of 28-11-9? A swingman leading all rebounders with 15? A reserve point guard as your leading shot blocker? What kind of shit is that?
Who do the Los Angeles Clippers think they are? The Phoenix Suns?
Clipperblog, with its vast network of sources, had no friggin' idea that Chris Kaman couldn't go for Game Four. So when John and I were introduced to the starting lineup, our dialogue went something like this:
"Are you friggin' kidding me? Put some $%*#&% size on the goddam floor! What is Dunleavy thinking?! Our one advantage is the post, and now we're forfeiting that strength?! What utter bullshit!"
Sure enough, early on, the Suns are able to penetrate the lane once they draw Brand outside. They either convert an easy lay in or kick it perimeter for an open jumper. PHX is also able to capitalize on the Diaw-Maggette mismatch inside - to no fault of Corey's because it's a crappy assignment for him; he's just not a post defender.
But then, the Clippers adjust. They bring in Livingston to guard the ball, which frees up Mobley to rotate - and let's face it, he has that instinct honed a lot sharper than Vlad does. You can argue that Livingston's block of Nash's shot is the turning point in the first quarter when the Clippers wrest control of the game away from PHX.
At this point, John and I say, "Okay, maybe the Clips are giving up size and physicality, but what they lose there, they can make up in speed and length - cut off passing lanes, steer cutters away from the gut of the lane, trap Nash off the screen more tightly. Essentially, make life harder for PHX off the S/R."
And it works. For the latter part of the first quarter and into the second, PHX has to settle for contested jumpers - and not because the Clippers are controlling the paint, but because they're beating PHX to their spots.
Then there's the offensive piece.
"You know, just because you don't have your bigs in there, doesn't mean you can't post."
And this is something the Clippers have come to realize. A "post player" doesn't need to be a 4 or a 5. Sam Cassell is a post player when he's matched up on the offensive end against Leandro Barbosa or Steve Nash. So is Cat Mobley. And so is Shaun Livingston.
So the Clips went to work. Just as we observed after Game Two - the more time the Clippers spend with their back to the baskets, the better chance they have to win this series.
Most of all, this game was notable for featuring a series of chapters on the offensive end for the Clippers:
- The throat-clearing, get-acclimated, let's-pound-it-into-the-block to see if they'll double team - and if they do, kick it out to Maggette or Cassell for a catch-and-shoot chapter. The first quarter comprised most of this chapter.
- Once Barbosa entered the lineup, there was the let's-post-up-this-helpless-defender chapter. Mobley converted a couple of these - and at other times, it opened up opportunities up top or on the weak side. Throughout the game, the Clips manhandled Nash and Barbosa in the low post.
- There was the Elton Brand is exerting his will on the game chapter.
- The "Hey, we're in the penalty; let's capitalize on it" chapter.
- The Vlad Radmanovic has an open lane to the basket anytime he wants it chapter.
- The Sam Cassell is unconscious chapter.
Clearly, Dunleavy has made a conscious decision to leave -- in order to cut off dribble-penetration -- a vulnerability on the rotation. Tonight, that vacuum is filled by Raja Bell. How does this happen? The Clips double Nash off the screen. Nash, trapped on the perimeter, would swing it to Bell, who would then touch-pass it in the corner to Marion. Marion is explosive - and he intentionally dribbles left to draw Bell's man on the double team. And it works. The moment Bell's man (often Maggette) commits, Marion dishes it off to Bell for an open three. Seven times tonight, it worked.
It's a beautiful thing, really. I mean, what's the alternative? Let Marion take Sam Cassell one-on-one in that situation? Where's Brand you ask? Well, Thomas has drawn him out on the weak side perimeter. Right now with the frame frozen, there are four Suns spaced perfectly on the arc - two at the corners, two at the sweet spots - and Diaw at the foul line.
And the Clippers look like Linda Blair - heads turned 180 degrees around this way and that.
And this is why Mike D'Antoni is my favorite coach. Is he the best coach in the Association?
How the hell do I know?
I'm just telling you how much fun I'm having watching this tape. It's fucking ballet.
Fortunately, our thrash metal rocked their Stravinsky tonight.
I should have a Clippers piece up on Slate Monday or Tuesday.
Time permitting, I'd like to take a closer look at the different Clipper lineups from Game Four...but life is calling loudly this week. When it rains...