Monday, May 22, 2006

Ride the Horse, or Release the Hounds?

One of the more interesting aspects of this series has been the Clippers approach to the offensive end. The sheer number of options, and the utter futility of the Suns defense, has created a problem of choosing the best option.

Obviously, the Suns haven't really come close to stopping Elton Brand. And the two-man game with Cassell and Brand has been the bread-and-butter all year. So do you keep riding the 'Horse'? On the other hand, the Clippers present match-up problems for the Suns all over the court. Quinton Ross abused Steve Nash in game 6 on the offensive end, while simultaneously stifling Nash's own offense by keeping him close to the baseline (to slow up the break) and just plain wearing him down. Mobley has a clear post-up advantage whenever Barbosa is forced to guard him. Diaw can't keep Maggette out of the lane. The list goes on and on.

Kevin over at ClipperBlog has an interesting post regarding this question. He comes down on the side of getting everyone involved, and hitting the Suns from every position (i.e. 'Release the Hounds'). In general, I agree, but there is a danger in either approach.

Q's game 6 success notwithstanding, let's not forget Clippers-Nuggets game 1. Matched up against tiny Earl Boykins in the 4th quarter, Q had two turnovers and a miss during the 10-0 Denver run that tied the game. By focusing on the Q-Earl matchup, the Clippers got out of sync; Brand had zero shot attempts during that run.

Or look at Game 5. Eager to work Nash over, the Clippers went to Maggette time and again, and it didn't work. (I'm fascinated by all the 'Q is a better post-up player than Corey talk' at this point. Did anyone think that before Game 6? Do we really believe it now? Are we basing this on two games?) With a big assist from Corey, the Suns built a 19 point 3rd quarter lead. How did the Clippers rally? Riding the horse. Cassell, Brand two-man game, pretty much every possession for the last 28 minutes of that game. Unfortunately, when we needed someone else to step up and make a shot, they couldn't do it. Mobley in particular got several chances out of Brand double-teams, and was unable to convert.

I seem to be contradicting myself at every turn. You can't argue with the Game 5 comeback. They made it all the way back from 19 down in the playoffs on the road. But the Clippers are deep and are at their best when everyone is involved. And the simple fact of this series is that the Clippers have lost the 2 games where Brand went over 30.

Most importantly, if we want to be successful on offense, start with the defense. Maggette wasn't yanked out of game 5 because of his offense, as bad as it was. It was his defense (and Kaman's) that gave the Suns a 19 point lead. It's human nature to revert to the familiar under pressure. If the Suns get a lead, it's going to be a lot harder to go away from Brand-Cassell. But in the games where the defense has kept the Suns under control, other players have stepped up and piled on, and the Clippers have won going away.