A gutsy, improbable win against a team that came into town with a six-game winning streak. How improbable ? If you threw the active rosters of both squads onto the court and picked teams, the first three players selected would have been Nuggets. At one point in the first quarter, the Clippers lineup on the floor was Brevin Knight, Ruben Patterson, Al Thornton, Paul Davis, and Aaron Williams. And you know what? They managed during that stretch. Patterson and Knight held down Anthony and Iverson respectively, and the Clips kept the wheels on defensively until the scorers could get back on the court. I hate to say it because it's my biggest tactical criticism of Mike Dunleavy, but those perimeter traps destabilized Denver. As good an interior defensive team Denver is, they don't do much in the post on the offensive end. They're a penetrating team. So cordoning them off outside isn't a bad strategy.
- Denver is a tough matchup for Kaman because, in addition to being the second-ranked defensive team in the league [Boston], they run quick double teams to the low post, giving Kaman very little time to set up and trigger his move. As if Camby isn't long enough, and Martin isn't physical enough, Eduardo Najera can actually defend a 7' 0" center. Kaman appeared very uncomfortable in the first quarter and he tied his season-high for turnovers with five. He also took 11 attempts from the floor tonight, including shots that resulted in trips to the line. So he clearly wasn't able to work as many shots as usual. But he scored 16 points on those 11 attempts, plus one technical shot for a defensive three against Denver. [How insane is that? If I told you two years ago that Kaman would be the guy to shoot technicals - with Mobley and Dan Dickau on the floor in Clipper uniforms, you would've unleashed the butterfly nets].
One of the things that's helping Chris' game offensively is his improvement in passing out of the double-team. Defenders have to be a little less decisive when they know that, if they double a big, there's a good chance he's going to find the open man and kick it out to him. Last season, Chris was a black hole down low - the rock would go into him and it would never be seen again. This season, the offense revolves around Kaman...literally. There's still a lot of work being done off the ball when Kaman has it down low. Why? Because Chris is commanding double-teams and this effectively creates open space on the perimeter and the weak side. When guys fill space, that creates scoring opportunities. And if Chris can find these guys, it makes for good basketball. The player who receives the ball on the kickout might not be the man who ultimately scores, but something will materialize. With Chris not holding the ball inside so long, there's plenty of time to reset and quickly find a mismatch resulting from what's happening down low.
Favorite Kaman set of the night [3rd, 2:41]: The Clips are up nine. Najera is on Kaman as Chris tries to set up just off the right mid-post. As Dickau brings it up, Thornton dives toward the hole, then does a little wing cut, driving his man [Anthony] into a Kaman down screen as Thornton moves to the perimeter. Anthony runs through the screen and catches up to Thornton, just as Al receives the rock back up top from Dickau. Thornton dumps it into Chris in the post, then cuts to the basket right behind Chris - but can't really shake Anthony [who is a much better defender than he was a couple of seasons ago]. Kaman tries to back down Najera, but decides with :10 to shoot it back to Dickau and repost - which is exactly what he does. When Dickau returns the ball to Kaman, the double-team comes quickly in the form of J.R. Smith. With only :06 left on the shot clock, Kaman finds Thornton on the weak side perimeter, where he's circled. The Denver defense has sagged over and low toward Kaman. Over a smothering double-team, Kaman hits Thornton from across the floor. Thornton puts a beautiful ball-fake on Anthony, dribbles in and takes a 15-foot jumper that falls.
Never underestimate what a quality big man in the pivot can do for an offense.
- This game was won on the defensive end of the floor. Across the board, the team defense was stellar tonight. Given how Denver divides the court with Iverson and Anthony, it's imperative for opponents to maintain balance and not gamble too much because there's absolutely no time to recover. Because Iverson, Anthony and Smith can fill lanes so quickly, you almost have to have a zone mentality, even as you're patrolling a man-to-man. Watching the game again right now, the Clippers are quick to recover all night. Even Tim Thomas does a nice job [save one set in the 4th, when he totally forgets about Camby on a back cut]. Denver missed a lot of open looks, but the Clippers did a nice job of closing out throughout the game.
- Quinton Ross hit three 3PM. Prior to tonight, he had four in his pro career. He went 7-11 from the floor and 3-4 from beyond the arc for a total of 17 points. He also locked down Carmelo Anthony down the stretch in the fourth, after Patterson went back to the bench, allowing Anthony only one FGM on his watch. Ross needs to hit open shots this season if the Clippers have a prayer. Tonight he did.
- I thought Dickau did a nice job tonight. He did a lot of that gesturing that point guards do, and he directed some nice S/Rs with Kaman up top. And dare I say that he wasn't a liability defensively tonight, though he drew an easy assignment in Mike Wilks. Nevertheless, Dickau pressured the ball well and didn't blow any rotations. That's all you can ask for.
- The Clippers need a little more from Paul Davis. He's been doing some good work defensively and seems to understand how to trap off a S/R, but he's been a disaster offensively and there will come a point this season when he's going to be called upon to play 25-30 minutes. When that day arises, it would be nice if he could bring that face-up 15-footer with him, along with an ability to finish around the basket.
Whether the defense can sustain this rhythm against a Phoenix team that can actually shoot from the perimeter is another matter. But tonight, a ragtag squad of Clippers beat a much more talented team by executing perfect double-teams and uncanny recoveries with sharp defensive instincts. It was almost miraculous.