Posted by Kevin Arnovitz on Fri, 02/16/07, 09:44am:
Not long ago, when the Los Angeles Clippers needed to lose a game, they had to distribute playing time to all comers, giving 24 minutes to Zeke Rebraca, 18 to Bonny N'Dong, and 16 to Vin Baker. Pundits would criticize the Clips for, in some sense, compromising the integrity of competition. Losing on purpose? Athletic blasphemy.
These days? No orchestration necessary. Any five guys will do. Despite the Clippers' acknowledgement that they didn't give Atlanta sufficient respect and, therefore, got ambushed in their loss to the Hawks in Atlanta on January 6, they allowed a 15-point lead to evaporate Wednesday night:
When the Hawks inbound the ball with 26 seconds remaining, it goes into Marvin Williams at the top of the arc, being guarded by Shaun Livingston. Though Quentin Ross is on the floor, his assignment is the inbounder, Josh Childress, not Joe Johnson - the Hawks' All-Star and prolific scorer. Johnson belongs to Cat Mobley, who chases him around a pathetic Josh Smith screen to the top of the arc, where Johnson holds the ball. At :21 + change, Johnson begins his drive down the gut of the lane, getting a huge first step on Mobley. Livingston leaves Williams, but doesn't really do much to contest the shot. You know when you're at a reception and the appetizer guy floats by and you sort of make a half-hearted attempt to grab a mini-bruschetta, but don't commit to going all-out because you'd look like a pig? That's what Shaun looks like on the play: Johnson = Appetizer Waiter. Johnson drives all the way to the hoop and lifts a little floater for an easy basket. Reviewing this play doesn't offer any clarification. Mobley gets beat by a much quicker guy and the heralded defensive stopper is out on the wing guarding the Hawks' least potent scorer. When the ball goes through the hoop, Ross isn't anywhere near the play - through no fault of his own. Dunleavy decided that, with a full shot clock remaining, the inbounder warranted the best defender. Shaun was slow collapsing, and there was no shot blocker in the game because Kaman had five fouls.
The Clips have it down two with :19 left in the game. Maggette inbounds the ball to Shaun, who swing it to Thomas inside the arc on the right wing. Cassell sets a down-screen in the heart of the lane on Zaza P., which Kaman scoots around. He gets the ball about 8 feet out, then puts up a right-handed hook which hits the front of the rim at :12.0. But Kaman follows the miss over to the right baseline and grabs the ball with :11.0 left. At that moment, Shaun is wide open at the left elbow - open for a clean pass from Kaman. Cassell is also running toward Kaman, presumably to reset the play. But Kaman decides to launch a fallaway baseline jumper over his right shoulder and Josh Childress. It hits air, and Johnson collects it.
Simply put, Chris - who had a banner game up to that moment - spazzes out.
After Johnson hits a pair of free throws and TT hits a three, and Johnson hits another pair, the Clips have one last shot, down 96-93 with :4.3.
The Clips need three. Livingston gets the ball into Maggette, who has just curled around a good Kaman screen. Maggette gets the ball way out on the left wing. Zaza recovers, then quickly closes on Corey. Corey leans into Zaza, hoping to draw a foul that never gets called. The ball leaves his hands at :3.3 and it never has a chance.
The Hawks close with a 32-14 run in the fourth quarter. The Clippers' defense and work on the glass in the period are lazy. They give up eight points on layups and another six on tip shots in the final quarter, never mind the free throws that result from easy FG attempts.