Barring a clerical error in the NBA office, the Clippers will not have the face the Sacramento Kings in the postseason.
Last night's game was relatively entertaining, but there were very few if any discernable themes to take away from the Clips' performance. This was a touch-and-go game in which neither team could sustain a rhythm. But if we want to zero in on two specifics, I'd list (a) Sacramento's superior post defense against Brand and (b) the Clippers' hellacious final two-plus minutes where, with some sound decisions, they could've iced the game.
Here's how it went down:
- With 2:31 remaining in the game and the Clippers leading 91-87, Brand does a superb job of closing out on Artest in the high post. With :06 on the shot clock, Artest fires up a 19-foot fade-away jumper that clanks off the front iron and Cassell collects the rebound.
- Cassell gets the ball ahead to Mobley, who finds Kaman underneath for a baby hook with :18 left on the shot clock. It's a quality look and one that Kaman has drained time and time again. This one swirls around the rim, though. Chris probably had another couple feet to work with, but that's hindsight. Bonzi grabs the rebound.
- The Kings come downcourt and Bibby gets a nice screen from Brad Miller, but misses the 19-footer at 2:09. Brand takes down the board and we go the other way.
- Elton, usually a paragon of patience, gets a B/B- look with :15/1:59 left on the clock and misses, but Kaman nabs the offensive board and kicks it back out to Ross, who passes it over to Cassell to reset at :22/1:53 and a 4-point lead. Rather than work some clock, Cassell, who drained his last 26-footer, fires up another. This one is off.
- On the Kings' trip down, they seem disoriented as Ross eludes the Miller screen. The ball ends up in the hands of Miller at about 16 feet where he coaxes Kaman Cassell-style into a ridiculous foul off the most elementary fake at 1:39. What Chris is doing fouling Miller 16 feet away from the basket with a four point lead and 99 seconds to go is anyone's guess. Miller drains the free throws, which is what he does.
Clippers 91, Sacramento 89
- The Clippers catch a break on the next possession when Elton gets fouled at :06/1:20. The problem - he misses 1 of 2.
Clippers 92, Sacramento 89
- The most horrendous defensive series of the week as Artest brings the ball down, settles at the perimeter, then gets a high screen from Miller on Vlad. Vlad is unable or unwilling or ill-equipped to fight through it and, for some reason, Elton - lingering in the middle -- doesn't step out on Artest either. So Artest, completely shocked to have a wide open look from three, down three, does the obvious - he sinks the shot.
Clippers 92, Sacramento 92
- On the next trip down, Brand posts up ‘Reef and misses the fade-away 12-footer. Wells collects the rebound.
- Covered one-on-one by a smaller Mobley, Artest backs him into the paint and shoot an easy 10-foot shot over Cat at :34.3. Inexplicably, no double team even though Artest has three inches and 50 pounds on Cat. Artest has 14 in the quarter.
Sacramento 94, Clippers 92
- With no time outs remaining, Mobley has trouble getting the ball inbounds. Miller knocks the ball away and the Clippers, mercifully, get to take it out in the backcourt. Cassell passes it to Brand in the high post and he finds Vlad on the perimeter. Vlad drives to the hoop, recognizes the double-team (the Kings have collapsed on the ball sublimely all quarter) and finds Cat coming off the weak side. Cat drives through the paint and draws contact. At :07, two shots for Mobley...except that he misses the first.
Sacramento 94, Clippers 93.
- The Clips foul Miller. The 84% foul shooter drains both.
Sacramento 96, Clippers 93.
- With no timeouts and :16 left on the clock, the Clippers have a shot. Artest is on Cassell. Cassell doesn't care. Even though Vlad has a much better look on the weak side, Cassell throws it up with :12.3 and Artest in his grill and clanks it off the back iron. The Clippers immediately foul Miller.
- In a stroke of dumb luck, Miller misses both and Clips will have one final opportunity to tie with :09.9. Vlad dribbles downcourt in a frenzy, pulls up at the arc, but can't find enough space to get off a decent shot, though it's closer than it should've been.
Ballgame: Sacramento 96, Clippers 93.
Why did the Clippers go 0-4 against the Kings this year? My best guess is Sacramento's superior post defense. If you had to assemble a team to go up against the Clippers, what would you want?
Considering that the Brand-Kaman tandem is the most productive low-post scoring attack in the league, I'd choose a platoon of guys who can defend the low block, and that's exactly what the Kings have in Thomas (who has done a bang-up job on EB), Artest, ‘Reef...and Miller is no slouch with his repertoire of grabbing, pulling and bumping.
Throw in a dribble-penetrating point-guard and you've got a blueprint on both ends - and a 4-0 series sweep.