You had to see this one coming.
Through the first four games:
- Tim Thomas 3PA: 13-24 (.542)
- Cuttino Mobley FG%: .620
- Chris Kaman: 1.25 TO/G
These stats are beyond the outer fences so far as the Clippers are concerned, and were destined to fall back to earth. Throw in a road game against one of the better defensive teams in the league and it's not surprising the Clips stuck their fork in the toaster.
For what it's worth, I don't think the Clippers' defense was as atrocious in the first quarter as the stats would make you believe. Dunleavy's decision to zone up wasn't completely absurd -- particularly against Detroit, who moves off the ball better than anyone. Billups loves to penetrate in the halfcourt and it's not like you can put Q on the ball and let Sam chase Rip Hamilton around. At any rate, when Dunleavy recognized that Billups was just going to reverse course and dribble toward the weak side and send Wallace over to the wing to challenge Cassell, he called off the dogs and switched back to a man defense. Detroit doesn't get a lot of praise for being a top-shelf offensive team, but they finished 6th in the league last season in offensive efficiency, and that's because they instinctively know how to break down defenses as well as any team in the league – with the possible exception of Phoenix…and maybe Utah's team last season.
Having just watched the first quarter again, it's clear that you could lay half the blame at the feet of Tim Thomas. When he wasn't being schooled by Wallace, or wilting as the second line of defense on a Billups' penetration, he was being called for a defensive three seconds violation. Possession after possession, he slid up when he should've stayed home and hedged when he should've doubled.
Kaman looked great again. And I loved that he got 8 FTAs. His best move of the night? In the first quarter against Rasheed Wallace. Ross dumps it into Chris way out off the right block -- a good 18 feet from the basket. Pivoting with his left foot, Chris collects the ball and swings his right foot around to face up against Wallace. Chris then puts a little jab step on Wallace, which gets 'Sheed lunging left to cut off the baseline. This buys Chris just enough time to step back and set for an 18-foot jumper with a beautiful follow-through.
I don't want us to get ahead of ourselves here, but this is more than just an instance of a guy picking up some of the stats leftover from the absence of a star. His footwork – which has always been sound – is even more fluid. He's clearly expanded his range. I'm not a big believer in "confidence" as a stand-alone intangible, but Chris now has the wherewithal to trust his game and his size. Defensively, I know he decided not to follow McDyess beyond 17 feet, but if I'd told you that McDyess was going to take four FGAs beyond 20 feet in the game's first 13 minutes, you would've taken that, right?