For the second time in his career, Elton Brand was named the Pacific Divison's honoree for the NBA's annual Sportsmanship Award. Last night's game was a ballsy win against a team we may have to face in the first round on the playoffs.  With our starting shooting guard a cipher on the floor, our best defender limited to 20 minutes or fewer, and a center who racked up as many turnovers as field goals, the Clips were able to overcome a 22-point deficit - 20 at the half - to beat a Denver team that didn't miss a shot until 3:16 in the first quarter. Consider that for a sec: Denver scored 29 points before they missed a shot from the field.  And this wasn't the typical blueprint of spreading the floor against the Clips and swinging it to the open man.  The Nuggets executed in the break; they worked the back door by having Camby pull Kaman outside...or just had Camby put it up from 15 feet (Marcus went 9-9 from the floor in the first half);  Denver hit contested jumpers; they beat the Clippers off the dribble. 

In other words, the first half was an equal opportunity ass-kicking.  Denver threw a variety of offensive looks on the floor and the Clippers recognized none of them.   Throw 17 fast break points in the mix and you've got yourself a certified blowout. 

So how did the Clips respond? 

Dunleavy, like vitually every coach in the Association, takes a lot of flak for his rotations.  But after watching the Clippers - a team that's fourth in the league in opponents' FG % -- allow Denver to hit a record 81.6% of their shots, Dunleavy made the smart decision to start Livingston and Ross, with Vlad, Brand and Kaman in the second half. 

At the risk of sounding redundant, I'll say it again: The Clippers are a better team when Quentin Ross is on the floor.

Let's take a look at the Clippers' third quarter defensive series:

  • The Nuggets swing it around the perimeter and get it to ‘Melo in the corner where he likes to take his defender baseline.  But Ross is on him like glue.  With the shot clock down to :06, ‘Melo finds an open Greg Buckner on the far weak side and Buckner heaves up a 24-footer and misses badly.  Livingston was a little late to the spot, but all in all, a gritty half-court defensive stand for the Clips.
  • In transition, Miller drives the lane, but is contested the whole way by a lanky Shaun.  Miller tries to dish it off to Elson, but Elson wasn't expecting the pass and it went right through his hands.  Denver Turnover. 
  • After a steal, Denver takes it out on the break again.  This time, Buckner has his layup blocked by Q. Ross.  Kaman deserves a defensive assist for cutting off Buckner's left.
  • Q. Ross gets whistled for an off-the-ball foul on ‘Melo, who is already getting frustrated.  Ross is bumping him, smothering him, pushing him off his spot.  It's Bowen-esque.  Later in the possession, Camby maneuvers on the weak side to an open spot at 16 feet.  Brand meets him there, but he takes Elton off the dribble, drives to hole and gets fouled.  Camby sinks 1 of 2 from the line.
  • On the break, the Nuggets have numbers.  Anthony gets it into the hands of Miller, who slams into a set Quentin Ross.  Offensive foul.  
  • The Nuggets run a high on-ball screen for Camby who collects the ball off the pick, drives and misses his first shot of the night - an awkward 10-foot runner.  Who met him at the point of release?  Q. Ross.
  • The Clippers suffer their first defensive lapse of the second half in allowing Denver to get out in transition off a made free throw.  Camby, who handles the ball pretty well, gets it to Buckner who has beautifully positioned himself on the break between Vlad and the basket.  An easy two.
  • An inert half-court set for the Nuggets results in ‘Melo being tripled-teamed under the basket.  Brand blocks his shot and we go the other way.
  • In the half-court again, the Nuggets get the ball into ‘Melo's hands early in the set out on the perimeter.  He stutters, tries to shake Ross, but afforded nothing from Q, ‘Melo settles for a contested 22-footer that isn't close. 
  • Kaman turns the ball over, but the Clippers recover nicely in transition.  Before Camby can go up for the layup, he's stripped by Brand.  The Nuggets reset and get it to Camby at his spot but, again, he's stripped by Brand. 
  • One of the prettiest defensive sets of the night.  Miller brings the ball down, eager to get it into ‘Melo at the high post.  But ‘Melo can establish absolutely no position against Ross.  Nothing.  Option #2 at :12 is to swing it tentatively around the perimeter.  The ball ends up in the hands of Buckner on the wing at :07; he drives but with no daylight between himself and the hoop, he delivers the ball weak side to...Frankie Muniz sitting courtside.  Blogospherics:  This is your Clipperblog Defensive Hold of the Night. 
  • This is what happens when your offensive game is shaken.  By all accounts, Denver should be out in transition off the Brand miss.  But they're flummoxed, so Howard Eisley slows it up.  The Clippers have sniffed out that high pick-and-roll for ‘Melo, so Eisley delivers the ball to Camby at 15 feet, where he went 9-9 in the first half.  This one is a brick.

The Nuggets are getting nothing at the offensive end.  Not a look.  Midway through the quarter and they have one field goal.  The Clippers' defensive performance here is reminiscent of the second half of the NOK game.   Schematically, the Clippers are doing it with man.

  • Out of the time out, Denver gets it to ‘Melo on the wing, where he draws the foul on Q.  It's only the second team foul. Eisley penetrates, kicks it out to Buckner on the arc and he hits from 24 feet.  Despite the Buckner make, the Clips played solid defense.  Vlad contested Buckner, who hit the shot in motion, somewhat off-balanced.  It happens.
  • Denver gets it to ‘Melo - this time on the left wing.  Ross knows that ‘Melo loves to go baseline, so he cuts off ‘Melo's left.  Melo shakes right, but is met by Kaman who contests his wild 19-footer that doesn't draw rim. 
  • Camby frees himself up at the foul line, fakes out Kaman, and misses a shot he's hit at least five times tonight. 
  • Finding nothing inside and with ‘Melo blanketed by Q on the wing, the Nuggets kick it out to Buckner on the arc.  Vlad is able to get there in time and Buckner's three isn't close.
  • With their lead cut to five, the Nuggets come down, get it to ‘Melo on the wing.  He then finds a wide-open Eisley at the top of the arc.  With no Clipper within five feet, Eisley drains the three, only his sixth of the season.
  • ‘Melo being ‘Melo.  He starts on the right wing, and even though Q forces him baseline (not that ‘Melo doesn't have the best baseline drive in the league) and into a waiting Chris Kaman, ‘Melo makes a double-clutching, insane layup on his way down.  Props.  He's a freaky player; that's what freaky players do.
  • The Nuggets are able to push the perimeter in to about 15 feet.  The ball goes into ‘Melo who swings it up top to Patterson, who finds K-Mart open from 16 feet.  This is the first instance in the quarter where the Clips appeared lost on the rotation.  The culprit?  Walter McCarty.  After Waltah came over to double Anthony on the left wing, for some reason he stepped out on Eisley before realizing that he had to spell Elton underneath on Camby so that Elton could step out on K-Mart.   Ugly defensive sequence all around.  Vlad still appears a little lost at times, which is a shame because guys with size and quickness should be an asset in a half-court defensive set where there's a lot of ball movement. 
  • The Nuggets run the same set they've been running most of the game - but on this series, Vlad wins the camper-of-the-week award, denying an entry pass to K-Mart at the foul line with his long arms and forcing the ball back out to Eisley with :08 on the shot clock.  Patterson then tries to take Vlad off the dribble, but then kicks it out to Camby who misses yet another one of those 18-foot jumpers he'd been nailing throughout the first half.
  • A cheap foul called on Cassell against a driving Eisley way out on the wing.  Eisley hits his free throws. 
  • Denver gets it to Anthony at the top of the key against Q.  ‘Melo tries to fake out Q, but ultimately stumbles; the ball squirts out, Ross collects it.
  • The Clippers botch the break and now the Nuggets have it on the break.  They get it to ‘Melo in the open floor with only Zeke between him and the basket.  He draws the foul and hits his free throws. 
  • The last Denver possession of the quarter.  Dunleavy brings in McCarty to cover ‘Melo.  Anthony holds the ball out on the perimeter, then shuffles a quick dribble fake and heaves it up from 25-feet.  Not even close. 

There's your quarter.  The Clippers cut a 20-point deficit to 5.  Denver scored 16 points in the period on 5-14 from the field.  With the exception of the final series, Quentin Ross played the entire quarter, with Livingston at the point.  Not to denigrate Cassell, but having competent backcourt defenders makes life a lot easier on Chris Kaman.  It allows Brand to patrol the opponents' sweet spots on the court, Kirilenko-style, for blocks and forces opponents to change their shots.   

Cassell scored 10 of his 19 in the fourth. So far as I'm concerned, Kaman is still mired in a slump.  Camby had his way with him throughout the first half, exploiting one of the worst facets of Chris's game -- namely knowing where the hell he should be on a basketball court when his man drifts off the low block.  And the turnovers are starting to become a real problem.  If Chris is going to get a considerable number of touches in the post, he can't be turning the ball over 6 times a game.  And if your turnover number matches your field goal number - as it did last night - that's not helping your team win basketball games. 

We'll do more on Kaman on an off-day.  Hollinger thinks he's vastly overrated, an estimation based largely on those turnover numbers and a little less so on Chris's defensive efficiency numbers.  I think the intangible value of having a ambidextrous big man in the pivot is enormous, but I'm starting to wonder if Hollinger doesn't have a point.  The larger question, I guess, is - is there a pattern that suggests that big men can "learn" how not to turn the ball over the way, say, a hitter can learn to cut down on his strikeouts or a pitcher can learn to cut down on his walks?