On a night when Elton Brand played one of the best games of his professional career against an undersized Hornets' zone, the Clippers - one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the league - lost the most important game of the season due to their fundamental inability to put bodies on a much smaller NOOCH team.
Ready to assign blame? Here are the three offensive boards that won it for NOOCH in overtime:
- [OT, 2:29] There never should've been a rebound because the Clippers, completely disoriented while setting up their defense, leave Devin Brown all alone at the top of the arc for a wide open 3PA. Best as I can see, Elton decides to drop off David West to double Chris Paul as he penetrates. Corey picks up West at the top of the circle, but who's taking Brown on the perimeter? Mobley can't leave Bobby Jackson in the left corner.
At any rate, Brown misses the 3PA, but upon the release, West darts down the lane untouched by Maggette who's watching the shot. Had the ball gone to the other side, Jackson was completely unchecked by Kaman. West lays it up and in to give NOOCH a three point lead.
There were so many breakdowns on this defensive segment by the Clips that one way or another, NOOCH was going to come away with points.
- [OT, 1:10] The Hornets run a high S/R way up top for Paul. He splits the defenders, then kicks it out to Jackson on the weak side for a 3PA. Mobley closes nicely. West again was set up way up high and, again, he comes barreling down the lane unhindered. It was entirely Chris Kaman's responsibility.
Hornets by seven.
- [OT, 0:36] Up five and inside a minute, NOOCH milks the shot clock down and ends up with a contested, double-teamed 3PA at :01 by Jackson. The rebound bounces left. Tim Thomas was patrolling the weak side glass, but is oblivious to Chris Paul's presence just behind him. Paul snatches the ball, and Brand has to foul.
With Tyson Chandler on the bench for NOOCH, tonight should've been the Lakers game redux, with Kaman and Brand pounding the Hornets in the post. To compensate for their lack of size, NOOCH went with a zone for long stretches. For the most part, the Clippers tried to take advantage of the disparity, and you saw the best results in the fourth quarter when Elton took the game over. With 20:4 seconds remaining in regulation, trailing by two, the Clippers faced their biggest possession of the season. Here's how it went down:
- Hart gets the ball to Mobley way out on the left arc. Elton is fighting for position against West just in front of Cat. The entry pass goes into EB with about :14.5 remaining. Brand looks for Mobley, who has just gotten a man-sized pick from Kaman, up top, but Jackson has recovered. Instead, the second West makes a half-hearted reach for the ball, Elton charges his right-handed dribble into the lane and goes in for a driving slam.
With :09.5 the game is tied.
After a bizarre sequence in which Jess Kersey whistles Jason Hart for a quick foul the instant NOOCH inbounds the ball, the Clippers get the ball back down two for their second consecutive biggest possession of the season:
- With no timeouts remaining, Hart races it up for the Clips. He gets it across at about :06, then quickly slings it over to Maggette on the left arc. Maggette dishes it off to Brand at his favorite spot. EB launches it over West for two, and ties the game with a second remaining.
I didn't get a chance to blog the Dallas game, but watching the first half I had one of those sports fan communion moments watching Elton work in the halfcourt with about 7:00 remaining in the first:
Elton has it out on the left wing for a 17-footer against Diop. He's sizing up the shot. It's not a bad one, probably around 50%, but Elton recognizes that, if can give the ball up, then re-post, he can probably have a measurably easier shot. Whatever risk is assumed in passing out to Hart and getting the ball back is more than compensated by the upside of getting the higher percentage shot. Anyway, Elton gets it back out to Jason Hart, who delivers another entry pass to EB - this one at closer range. EB takes the patented faceup shot from about 12 feet instead of 17, and it's good.
I don't expect that kind off basketball to inspire widespread approbation and huge endorsement dollars. Cerebral play and judiciousness aren't things that the public really wants in its power forwards, even if these qualities won Tim Duncan multiple rings. But Elton's shrewdness in the halfcourt is still admirable and, as an asset, has been one of the most important factors in turning this franchise around. Tonight's loss hurt because of its larger implications for the Clips' playoff hopes, but I was most disappointed for Elton because he deserved this one.
Here's what we're looking at:
The Clippers clinch the tiebreaker with one more victory against a Pacific Division opponent. Figure Golden State goes 3-1 against three teams eliminated from the postseason and another team that's coasting to the (1) seed. That would mean the Clips need to go 4-1 - win all three at home and steal either the Lakers game or hope that PHX will be phoning it in with the (2) seed locked up by next Tuesday.
 For all of Elton's talent and menschkeit, he's always had a rap as a guy who can't take over a game down the stretch in the manner befitting an NBA superstar. Tonight, Elton wasn't flawless, but he controlled the game in its crucial minutes when the season was on the line.
 Mike Smith contends that Kersey though the Clips had a foul to give and assumed that Hart was using it. According to Smith, Kersey even pointed to the sideline, indicating a non-shooting foul before he realized that NOOCH was in the bonus.
 If the Clips don't win another game against divisional opponent, then they won't have to worry about tiebreakers, natch.