Monday, May 15, 2006

Clippers Sun Game 3

Timmy T called Monday morning to ask where the ClipperNation has been this weekend. Mom and Dad also called. They are travelling, and sorely in need of a Clippers update. Why no posts all weekend?

I was just too depressed after Game 3.

Of course there were other things like coaching the boy's baseball team (another depressing loss there, btw) Mother's Day lunch, and cleaning the house... but mostly there was depression. Deep, dark depression.

And then there was the fact that everything I've ever said about this series turned out to be WRONG in Game 3.

If the Suns shoot well, they win. If they shoot poorly, they lose. That's been my mantra, and it held true for 9 playoff games. Oh, and the Clippers will always kill the Suns on the boards. That's a good one. None of this turned out to be true for Game 3.

Of course, the opposing team still needs to score more than the Suns, even if they are shooting poorly. That's where the Clippers screwed me (well, it was really more my theory that got screwed.)

The Clippers are blessed with 7 terrific offensive players (really 8, but Rebraca doesn't count in this series as the speed is almost too much for Kaman, let alone big Z - it's too bad, because I got a kick out of listening to Kevin Harlan pronounce Z's name in the Denver series.) Of the 8 guys in the rotation, only QRoss is not a 'go to' scorer. In Game 3, Vlade Rady is the ONLY offensive-minded Clipper who played well. Brand had a terrific first quarter, and his final numbers look OK, but for the final 3 quarters even EB was dreadful.
  • Cassell - 6 points on 10 shots, 2 turnovers;
  • Mobley - 14 points on 14 shots, 4 turnovers;
  • Kaman - 11 points on 11 shots, 2 turnovers;
  • Livingston - 3 points on 5 shots, 2 turnovers;
  • Maggette - 7 points on 10 shots, 3 turnovers;
  • Brand - 20 points on 17 shots, 1 turnover, 3 for 11 after the first.

As a rule, if shots plus turnovers is greater than points, you're not really helping the cause.

To be sure, some of these guys contributed significantly in other aspects of the game. EB had 8 assists, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks - all in all, a massive fantasy basketball line. Maggette had a game high 14 rebounds and 5 assists in 28 minutes. But other than Vlade, no one could make a shot.

The Clippers scored 15 points in the 3rd quarter. Vlade scored 14 points in the 4th quarter in 3:40. Now, the Suns can play with relatively more or less energy on defense, and in game 3 they were energized, but they will never be mistaken for a good defensive team. With Barbosa and Nash on the floor (their best lineup), they give away size at every position. The Suns weren't suddenly playing great defense. They were doubling Brand quickly (hence the 8 assists and poor shooting), and the rest of the Clippers were missing shots.

The fact that the Clippers didn't deserve to win this game somehow makes the officiating in the fourth quarter a little easier to take. On their way to a 6 point lead with 49 seconds left, the Suns had a 9-1 advantage at the line, based on 10 Clipper fouls versus 2 Suns fouls. (This is a distrubing 4th quarter trend that has been repeated in Games 1 and 4 as well - in short, every game that was still a game.) The Clippers first 4 fouls of the period came in less than 3½ minutes, and 3 of those were non-shooting fouls committed about 30 feet from the basket. Now, there are good fouls and there are bad fouls. Loose ball foul working hard to get a rebound - good foul. Aggressive foul trying to block a shot against a player with good low post position - good foul (assuming it's hard enough to ensure no 'and-one'). Fouls 30 feet from the basket against a guy harmlessly dribbling that put the best FT shooting team in the bonus for the last 8 minutes of the quarter? Not so good.

Now I'm not much for the conspiracy theories. But in a game where 26 fouls were called on the Clippers TOTAL, why were 10 of them called in the 4th quarter? When the Clippers' bigs show on the high S/R, why is every touch now a foul when it wasn't earlier in the game? When Kaman was called for his 5th against Nash, I screamed some sort of expletive, and the widow asked if I thought Nash was acting. I said, "Nash weighs 190 and Kaman weighs 270 - if they bump into each other, Nash loses - but it doesn't mean it's a foul." Are the Clippers actually committing more fouls in the 4th, because they are playing more aggressively? Maybe. But what happened to the famous 'Playoff Basketball' I've heard so much about? How will Reggie Miller survive if he can't say 'You're not going to get that call in the 4th Quarter of a playoff game?'

Having said all that, 2 calls in the 4th quarter probably sealed the Clippers' fate. With a 1 point lead (courtesy of Vlade's 4th trey seconds before) and 7½ minutes left, Vlade secures the defensive rebound and throws a beautiful look ahead pass to Maggette, who scores as Marion falls back in the lane. The whistle blows, and everyone in the building thinks it's an and-one. I mean everyone - Tirico on ESPN, Ralph and Mike on Prime - they've all counted it. Announcers aren't dumb - they watch a lot of basketball, and they don't like to be wrong. If they are unsure of a call at all, they watch the ref to see what he is calling before they say anything. But they all had this as a block - and the replays showed they were right. For one thing, Marion was moving into Maggette after he had started up. For another, Corey slid to Marion's right, avoiding the chest-to-chest contact that is usually required for a charge to be called. At best, it's a no-call; no way it's a charge. Undoubtedly the reputations of both Maggette and Marion preceded them in this case, but at any rate, the lead stays at one when it should have gone to 4, and some of the air is let out of Staples Center.

Four minutes later, the lead has bounced between 3 and 1 with the Clippers making buckets and the Suns making free throws. Finally, Marion breaks through with a trey to tie the score, but Livingston earns the Clippers first trip to the line in the quarter with 2½ minutes left. He makes the first, and misses the second, and they call a foul on Livingston on the rebound. Not only was there no foul (watched it on the TiVo about a million times, no foul folks), the ref who called it had no chance to see ANYTHING. Nash's body and several other players were between him and the ball. The MVP gets the phantom call, goes to the line and sinks two, the Suns re-take the lead and never trail again.

Like I said, the Clippers didn't really deserve to win this one. If Radmanovich doesn't go nutty-koo-koo, they're not even close. If Livingston doesn't miss the free throw, the Clippers have a two point lead and there's no loose ball foul. They just didn't play well enough to win. But neither did the Suns. And that is beginning to disturb me. In game 1, the Clippers shot 61%, their highest shooting percentage this season, and lost. In game 3, the Suns shot 37% and won for the first time shooting under 40% this season. That's 2 games with a glaring stat that basically screams 'Clipper W' that both ended in L's. That hurts. Hurts bad.

One last thought on Game 3. The whole question of second guessing Dunleavy about holding Cassell out of the game is funny to me. The Clippers started the quarter behind by 9 points. With Cassell on the bench, the Clippers turned a 9 point deficit into a 3 point lead, and STILL had that 3 point lead with 3 minutes left. With 2:30 left, they ran a perfect play and got a wide open shot for the hottest shooter in the universe, and he dropped the pass out of bounds. Would Vlade have caught that pass if Cassell had thrown it to him? At most, I mean AT MOST, you could argue that Dunleavy could have brought Cassell back one possession earlier than he did (i.e. 45 seconds earlier.) Would that extra 45 seconds have made the difference? C'mon! It wasn't Sam's night, and the Clippers were plus 12 with the group on the floor. Of course you have to stick with that group, at least until you lose the lead. That's essentially what Dunleavy did, and I don't know how anyone who was paying attention can say it wasn't the right thing.