The Clippers without Elton Brand are a collection of ballplayers either pre- (Chris Kaman, Al Thornton) or post (Sam Cassell, Cuttino Mobley, Tim Thomas) prime. The one obvious exception, of course, is Corey Maggette. At 28, Corey is playing for what will promise to be the most lucrative contract of his career. But since January 1, he's also done something else: Corey has made the season a referendum on his ability to be not only a free-lancing playmaker, but an offensive linchpin who can sculpt a game to his advantage. Since January 1, Corey Maggette hasn't shot below 50% in a single game. He's also 15 for his last 22 behind the arc.
Last night, Corey tied his season-high 35 points [his previous 35 point effort came in an overtime loss to Memphis a couple of weeks ago] on 9-15 shooting from the FG. Here's how those 9 FGs materialized:
- [1st, 7:13] Corey's first FGM comes off a Toronto brainfart/miscommunication on a pretty lax S/R [Corey's really just running interference here] with Brevin Knight and Corey, but it's probably not a coincidence that aforementioned brainfart occurred while the Clips are in semi-transition. Knight, guarded by Jose Calderon, breezes his way up the right side, dribbling toward Corey. Corey actually runs between Knight and Calderon, who – to no surprise – is playing a few feet off Knight. As Calderon tries to run under he pick, but Anthony Parker [normally a very sound defender] doesn't allow Calderon enough room, and the two of them collide as Parker tries to chase Corey to the top of the circle. Credit Chris Kaman here, too, because as Parker tries to close, he runs into a nice Kaman pin. Corey sinks the open 3PM.
- [2nd, 8:15] Credit the transition offense again. Corey comes down with the defensive board, gets it ahead to Dan Dickau. Toronto is all over the place on the backpedal. Corey finds nobody anywhere near the arc, so he plants himself there. Dickau sees it immediately, kicks the ball back to Corey, who sinks the 3PM.
- [2nd, 7:45] Very next possession. The first option on this play seems to be an off-ball down screen for Al Thornton, but Andrea Bargnani sniffs it out. But there's still :14 left on the shot clock [isn't that a nice luxury? It's amazing what can happen if you actually start your offensive set the instant you cross the timeline]. What happens next is really nice. Corey has been hanging out on the baseline, but when the first option dies, Josh Powell – who is set up at the top of the key – sets a strong, strong down screen on Corey's man, Carlos Delfino. Corey is able to pop up from the baseline to a wide open space at the top of the key. His shot is silky tonight. Easy 18-footer. Josh Powell helps make it happen.
- [2nd, 6:48] Nothing really to say here because KTLA hasn't even come out of the cutaway before Dickau gets it up for another Maggette 3PFG in transition, this time on the left arc.
- [2nd, 4:33] Nothing fancy here. Corey holds it deliberately out on the left wing against Jamario Moon. He then starts a hard drive left…but pulls up suddenly at about 18 feet. Before Moon can put on the breaks, Maggette has already elevated for the J.
- [2nd, 3:13] Child's play. Corey has established his long-range shot tonight and Moon, rightfully, plays him here very tightly way out on the arc. A quick ball-fake from Corey. He gets Moon to bite, which opens up a clear lane to his left all the way to the rim. Easy layup.
- [3rd, 9:19] The Clips are clearly trying to work something for Mobley here, but Parker is a capable defender and has no trouble running through the Kaman screen. Thornton, who holds the ball up top along the right arc, can't find anything, so he scoots the rock to Corey, who is staked out on the left arc. Corey dumps it into Kaman (in front of him at the top of the key) for that patented give and go. Moon is a millisecond slow to react as Corey runs to Chris' left. Chris flips Corey the ball as he passes. Corey stops, pops and sinks the open 20-footer. Pretty stuff.
- [3rd, 4:28] This is a big possession. The Clippers have managed to shave what was just recently a 12 point Toronto lead down to six, but need to sustain that momentum. Knight brings the rock up the court in transition. Again, the Clips are quick to start their set – much better than a month ago. It goes into Kaman off the right mid-post. The double comes quickly from Calderon, but Knight takes advantage of the trap by diving to the hoop. Kaman, who is getting so much better in these situations, picks this up immediately, and tosses the ball over his two defenders directly to Knight. Delfino then closes on Knight under the basket…but this leaves Corey wide open in the corner. With the Clippers well-spaced, Anthony Parker can't rotate quickly enough from Mobley. Corey sinks the uncontested 3PM – his fourth.
This possession is all about (1) Recognition (2) Spacing.
- [3rd, 0:22] Not to take anything away from Corey here, but the Raptors are just ridiculously crossed-up. Knight comes down the far side in transition off a T.J. Ford miss. Mobley runs down the center lane, while Maggette floats down the near side. Jason Kapono, backpedaling, gestures to Rasho Nesterovic, who doesn't know where he's supposed to be. Kapono at this point is the only defender within eight feet of either Mobley or Maggette. Knight passes it over to Mobley and, sensibly, Kapono realizes he's the only Raptor on the court with the ability to close on Cat. But this leaves Corey uncovered. Mobley slings it over to Corey who hits a wide, wide, wide open 3PM [5-5].
That's the last of Corey's FGs, but he hits four FTs in the game's closing seconds to seal the W.
How about that driving slam by Thornton at 1:30 to give the Clips a six-point lead at 1:30? His first step is a monster and tonight he does a much better job of seeing the full court in the context of what he wants to do with his drive.
I don't think the Clippers as presently constituted can be a running team. But a middle-ground exists. And given the difficulties the Clips have at working shots, they should use the transition game to get themselves at least two good options in a set, instead of waiting until :15 and getting only one.