The difference for Al Thornton tonight is the breadth of his game. We've seen repeatedly how Thornton's lethal jab step and quick release allow him to create enough space for himself on the perimeter to launch a jumper [1st, 9:18; 4th, 11:00]. But that luxury has, at times, enabled a lack of discretion on Thornton's part. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. But tonight, he sizes up his matchups well and finds himself some prudent shots in the half court.
- [1st, 8:47] Having just sunk a long jumper just inside the arc, Thornton fakes another before dumping the ball into Chris Kaman in the mid-post. Thornton's man, Malik Allen, hedges for a moment, but makes enough of a commitment to double low that Kaman kicks it back out to Thornton. Here, Thornton has cause to launch the 3PA. But he decides to use his quickness against a recovering Allen to dribble in another eight feet. Better shot, and less contested. He hits from 12.
- [4th, 9:09] With Vince Carter on him, Thornton recognizes that there's good work to be done in the post. Knight feeds him just off the mid-post. From there, Thornton backs Carter into the restricted circle, spins baseline, takes a strong pivot, goes up with both arms, then lays it from underneath with his right.
The Clippers squander a five point lead in the final minute of the game trying to be cute -- trying to draw contact rather than get good open looks. The Nets, down three, respond by hitting a 3PFG in transition with :06 remaining. It's interesting that more teams down three with only a few ticks left, don't try to work their final 3PA in transition. Isn't it easier to get a quality 3PA on the perimeter when the defense doesn't have time to set itself along the arc?
After an initial Kaman offensive foul on the opening possession of overtime, the Clips get a flurry of quality shots. The first comes in transition, with Mobley forcing the tempo downcourt, beating Jason Kidd off the dribble to the basket. After a strong defensive stand - in the zone, no less! - the Clips come back up two.
- [OT, 3:45] The Clips don't find much in the first 14 seconds or so of the possession. The Nets are using rookie center Sean Williams on Maggette, and Williams' length isn't allowing Maggette any space, not even for a simple feed. Kidd is on the ball, bothering Sam. Finally, Sam realizes his best bet might be a side screen that Kaman is offering up just in front of the Clippers' bench. He takes it and, off the screen, Josh Boone moves with Cassell toward the corner. This frees Kaman. Sam shoots him the ball, and Kaman ignites one of his best finishes of the season - driving ferociously from ten feet and not stopping until he slams the ball home. Clippers by 4.
- [OT, 3:04] Simple high S/R with Cassell and Kaman. Nothing fancy. It's a strong, solid screen by Chris, enough to allow Sam to shake Jason Kidd and elevate for an easy 17-foot jump shot. Clippers by 6.
- [OT, 2:30] Thornton has a matchup with Jason Kidd off the left post. Maggette recognizes it quickly and dumps an entry pass into the rookie. This time, Thornton, back to the hoop, drives across the lane. He stops, elevates, and sinks an easy 12-footer over his much smaller defender. Thornton's release is so quick that Sean Williams - who's an absolute beast of a help defender and my favorite rookie in the league right now - can't get there on time. Clippers by 8.
The Clips hit their FTAs down the stretch, and put the game away with reasonable ease.
I'm not offering anything original when I suggest that the Clippers ought to run more early S/R with Cassell and Kaman. Kaman has cultivated the kind of patience in the halfcourt that you want in your big man. The Clippers should run more through him at about :18, which would force the double-team earlier, thereby allowing the wings more time to work reasonable shots without having to look up and see :04 on the shot clock, which is what happens now more times than not.