Early on, the Clippers show they have the capacity to play quality basketball. They take their first lead at [1st, 4:36] when Baron Davis throws it into the post for Chris Kaman against Birdman Andersen. Kaman hasn’t done a lot right offensively to start the season, but when he sees Kenyon Martin slide over to help Andersen, Chris lasers a pass through the double-team to a diving Tim Thomas for an easy 2. It’s a beautiful set, with great recognition all the way around.
There were a bunch of satisfying things to take away from the first half. Even after Baron left the game following a nasty fall three minutes into the 2nd quarter, the Clippers execute some smart, creative possessions. Eric Gordon plays only two minutes, but at [2nd, 8:59], he perfectly times a baseline cut from the weakside corner to the right block [credit Mobley here with a nice cross screen]. Tim Thomas beautifully threads the needle from the arc, and Gordon gets an easy layup.
It’s working on the other end, too. Al Thornton — who will probably never be a super perimeter defender — reads and fights through Kenyon Martin screens to stay with Linas Kleiza [2nd, 5:59]. The Clips defend against back door cuts [i.e. 2nd, 5:08]. Mike Taylor deftly defends the S/R. And the Clips control the glass.
The second half, obviously, is an entirely different story. The Clippers come out of the locker room flat. The first possession? An ill-advised PUJIT attempt from Mobley. The Clips convert only one of their first six FGAs in the second half. And they start to spring some leaks on the defensive end — most of it in the interior. Nene and Kenyon Martin start getting easy looks inside of 10 feet. Even Anthony Carter is able to weave his way to the basket in a slow-down halfcourt set at [3rd, 8:29]. Chris Kaman has improved his standing as a defender in man-to-man post situations, but he has a tendency to lose track of active big men — ironically, guys with his kind of mobility — as they roam the floor. That’s how Nene puts together a 10-15 shooting night from the field.
In the 4th quarter, the Clips defensive fortunes don’t improve. At the outset of the period, J.R. Smith eats Ricky Davis alive. With Baron Davis out of the game and no Marcus Camby, the Clippers are left with only a few offensive options. Two matchups that emerge are Tim Thomas against Kenyon Martin — which worked in the first half. The other option, of course, is Al Thornton — first against the much slower Linas Kleiza, then later in the final minutes of regulation against the much smaller Anthony Carter. In the first four minutes of the 4th quarter, the Clips actually extend their lead. But after Jason Hart clanks in a 17-foot jumper at about 8:00, they don’t hit another hit another FG until 0:16.
In order of sequence…Tim Thomas decides to drive into a double-team and has the ball swatted away as he goes up instead of kicking out; Ricky Davis fires up an off-balanced fadeaway from about 18 feet; Jason Hart drives the paint — but has his attempted layup stuffed by Dahntay Jones; TT takes on Nene one on one at the top of the key and inexplicably launches an off-balanced fadeaway shot that’s nowhere close; Chris Kaman works a high-percentage 7-foot shot on the right block against, but simply misses it; blanketed by J.R. Smith, Mobley heaves an off-balanced jumper from 18-feet that clanks off the back of the iron; his 10-foot turnaround in the post against Smith a minute later is only slightly better…
While all this is going on, Denver has converted multiple shots inside of 10 feet. Nene continues to batter Kaman down low. J.R. Smith finds his way to the hole, and now Allen Iverson is poised to become a factor.
- With about 1:20 left in the game and the Clips up by a deuce — they haven’t relinquished the lead yet — Denver marches upcourt. They run a high S/R for J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin. The Clips wisely double Smith with Mobley and Thomas. Smith dribbles nowhere fast, which allows Thomas to catch back up with Martin. Good defense on what should’ve been a much cleaner S/R for Denver. Smith eventually hands off the ball to Martin in the mid-left post against Thomas. K-Mart puts the ball on the floor with his left, lowers his right shoulder and — in his best Vince Carter fashion — powers his way to the hole right past TT for an easy lay-in. Thomas, who, with Mobley, has defended the pick-and-roll to so well, loses the one-on-one game to a mediocre offensive player. The game is tied.
- We’re inside a minute now. Anthony Carter is on a much bigger Thornton and everyone in the building knows the Clippers are going to work it into Al in the post. Mobley dumps it in, but Thornton fumbles the entry pass. He recovers, but instead of being on the edge of the lane, he’s way out on the wing. Not good. Thornton takes a jab step, but can’t work himself any space against the scrappy Carter. Al becomes impatient and with a good :10 seconds left on the shot clock, he fires up a 23-footer. No good. Thornton shows flashes of brilliance tonight, but this is an immature possession at a crucial juncture. There wasn’t a whole lot of great stuff materializing, but Kaman had come over to give Al some space, which would’ve given him a shot closer in. In addition, Mobley was on the perimeter with Smith a ways off him. A little patience might have yielded a better shot.
- Denver doesn’t screw around. It’s an iso up top for Iverson against Jason Hart. Iverson drives right from the top of the arc, stops and pops from 10 feet. No good. Good ball defense from Hart.
- With about :30 seconds remaining, this time the Clips go to the left block for Thomas against Martin. Thomas patiently backs him in, turns around, and hits the 12-footer over Martin. Clips by a pair.
- A strange possession. Kleiza inbounds the ball to Iverson, who gets a high screen from Nene. Kaman picks up Iverson on the switch. The Clips defend this very, very well. Kaman stunts Iverson for just enough time to allow Hart to recover. Who’s got Nene? Tim Thomas has rotated up to make sure the big man doesn’t get an easy dive to the hoop. Well done. Iverson is met by Hart, so AI delivers a skip pass back to Kleiza on the far side. Kleiza drives and is mauled in the lane by Thornton. Kleiza hits his two FTAs. Game tied. Why foul Kleiza in traffic?
- :9.4 remaining. The Clips go back to Thomas against Martin. But this time, Tim seems to lose track of the clock and doesn’t start his strange rocker step-ish move until 2 seconds are on the clock. Martin manages to get a hand in and the ball squirts away as time expires.