I've watched the fourth quarter of last night's loss on the DVR at this point, and I want to make one thing clear. Steve Nash won that game; not the referees. And even with Nash's performance, the Clippers had plenty of opportunities to win it themselves. Ignoring the poor execution at the end of the other quarters for a moment, here are some of the lapses for the Clippers in the fourth quarter alone:
- Chris Kaman traveled when he was essentially alone under the basket;
- Eric Gordon missed a wide open layup;
- On a key possession in the final minute with the game tied, the offense could muster no more than a Marcus Camby straightaway three;
- Seconds later, the defense blew the most crucial rotation of the game in the final minute, with Gordon and Kaman both going to Channing Frye at the top of the key leaving Leandro Barbosa all alone in the corner - better shooter, better shot, not the guy to forget.
Having said that, I don't think the officials had their finest hour in the fourth quarter. I guess we'll call it a statistical anomaly that in a game where the foul calls had been evenly distributed through three quarters (17 fouls for each team), eight of the first nine whistles of the fourth quarter were against the Clippers. The result was a quarter in which the Suns took twelve free throws and the Clippers took one.
How to explain the discrepancy? I can't. It's not as if the Clippers turned into a jump shooting team in the fourth quarter. If anything, they were going to the basket more aggressively in the fourth than the rest of the game, with Gordon posting Nash or Kaman posting Stoudemire as the play call time and again.
As for the final seconds, the refs missed Nash grabbing EJ's shirt early in the first play, but there wasn't really any foul when Gordon hit the deck - if anything, he fell over Camby setting the screen. And certainly there's no call on the final shot. Gordon made the mistake of not going hard to his right when Stoudemire jumped the pick and roll - he would have had a much better chance of getting around him or drawing the foul had he done so. He's 20. He'll learn. The irony of course is that the one time the refs did blow the whistle down the stretch was an anticipation call when they knew the Suns had a foul to give. Like I said, not their finest hour.
But you still have to win the game.
The loss obscures some really good things that were happening.
- After a Mr. Flippy first half (6 points, 1 rebound, 2 for 6 shooting), we witnessed a Kaman 2.0 (2.5?) second half - 16 points, 8 rebounds, 8 for 11 shooting. And the really good news for those of us who were concerned that he was relying too heavily on the face up jumper is that in the second half he displayed the full arsenal. He was a monster in the second half.
- Marcus Camby was simply terrific - although let's not expect him to shoot 10 for 15 every night. Nonetheless, it's great to know, especially with Blake Griffin out for awhile, that he's still capable of playing this well (23 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals).
Baron Davis, although he still did not shoot well, played a great game. He scored 12 points and handed out 12 assists, and also came up with 5 steals. And he showed some of the explosiveness we've been missing when he went coast to coast with a steal midway through the fourth quarter. (I started working on my 'Clippers win' post after that play - that really should have been the moment that put them over the top. What happened to my narrative?)
- Eric Gordon played well, but stumbled a bit at the end. Call it part of his education as a go to guy. After burning Nash on consecutive possessions midway through the quarter, Gordon was 6 for 9 for 16 points - a typically hyper-efficient Gordon game, despite missing an uncharacteristic 4 free throws. But he missed his final four shots of the game, in order, a tough reverse layup that he really should have made, a blocked shot after getting that first layup back, when in hindsight he should have recognized that he had Stoudemire and Frye on either side of him and he should have passed the ball, a missed layup when he was all alone, and a desperation three on the final possession, when he hesitated instead of going hard to the basket. If he makes those layups, he's 8 for 11 for 20 points and the Clippers win the game. But like I said, he's still only 20. He'll make those plays down the stretch sooner rather than later.
- Rasual Butler did what he was brought here to do: make shots. He was 7 for 10 with three threes for 19 points and hit what might have been the game saver with 11 seconds left.
The bad news is that beyond Butler, the supposedly improved bench didn't do much. Truth be told, MDsr didn't let them do much. DeAndre Jordon didn't get off the pine, coach no doubt worried that the pace of the game and the range of the Phoenix bigs made this a bad situation for him. Craig Smith got the call at power forward, and struggled in 9 minutes. Sebastian Telfair played fine in his appearances, but was limited to 11 minutes. This left the starters playing major minutes (Baron 37, Camby 39, Gordon 41, Kaman 42) in the second game of a back to back, in the second game of the season.