This is not something I do often - in fact, I'm not sure I've ever done it before. But this missive from Citizen Zhiv is too good to sit at the bottom of the comments section of some half-hearted game recap post - it deserves the light of day and the oxygen of the front page to let it breathe some. ClipperSteve.
Our fearless leader CS recommended that we settle in and gnaw on this bone for a few days, and I’m all for it. It was a fascinating experience. As always, I’m going to start by looking at the bright side.
1. Was this a heroic defeat that cost the Lakers the NBA championship?
Talk about a gift to Clipper fans. Let’s remember this game if Kobe and Phil and Pau and Lamar are getting on the jet to go back to Cleveland for game 7. You know how some close games, like this one for instance, are decided by a missed free throw or two (hey now, Zbo!) in the 3rd quarter? Obviously playoff seeding and home court are the same thing writ large. If, like any semi-self-respecting Clipper fan you have “conflicts with”—not to say hate—the Lakers and their entire ethos, then you don’t mind the fact that Cleveland won this game. In fact it’s a good thing. Keep telling myself that.
2. The Maestro of the Meltdown
Nobody does it better than Mike Dunleavy. I try to stay neutral on Dunleavy. And I believe that responsibility for a collapse should primarily rest on the players and their effort. But a coach determines lineups and can manipulate momentum and make key decisions and run plays and matchups. And Dunleavy has an uncanny ability, on a twisted sort of spectacular scale, to guide his teams unerringly through full blown nuclear 4th quarter collapses and meltdowns. Milph were mentioning weird stats last night—LeBron’s come from behind blocks (Baron Davis, you dog! outta here with weak breakaway!)—and I would put MDsr’s 4th quarter losses with leads of 10 or more up against anybody’s.
There was one obvious doofus move, and one trickier one. The obvious early stages of a collapse are not the time to leave a struggling Mike Taylor out on the floor. Let Baron Davis earn his money, and put the loss on him. That was the critical, classic Dunleavy giant mistake. Leaving Kaman in, even more disastrous, is complicated because Camby has fluid in his head, right?, and he wasn’t even supposed to be playing at all. So that could be a reasonable excuse (we’ll leave DeAndre Jordan out of this for a moment). But don’t you get the sense that that’s not what happened, that Dunleavy got excited after Kaman got the ball to actually go into the hoop a couple of times, and he was thinking, “Kaman’s gonna get a block or a rebound and a follow or he’ll create space for Zach and he’s gonna help us win this thing!” Umm, no, maestro, that’s not what’s going to happen. He’s going to turn the ball over. That's what Primitive Kaman (early Kaveman) does, and after sitting out almost 50 games, don’t kid yourself, that’s Primitive Kaman out there. But let’s remember #1, and choose to think that this particular Laker FU required some of the Maesto’s very best, inspired work.
3. Primitive Kaman
God I love that big fella, that lovable lug. Has any basketball player EVER been more funky than Chris Kaman? His level of artistry is truly astounding, humbling those of us who try to make do with the plodding futility of a poor facsimile like Nick Fazekas. Stanley Roberts and Benoit Benjamin were pretty funky, of course, back in the day, but they were just amusing fools in the end. Olowokandi was angry and he had a British accent, and his funk was joyless and cancerous. No one does it like Kaman. We don’t forget, of course, his inimitable style of inverse basketball, where left is right and right is left and the obvious path is up around and under, rather than straight to the goal. But perhaps my favorite thing is that we now know, after, what is it, 6 years of careful study, that his mind goes too fast, not too slow, and how that can be, well, kind of a big problem at times. Like the way you get a key offensive rebound at crunchtime and then, quick as lightning, spot an open player on the other side of the court and fire a fastball right at him. How crisp and determined was that bullet across the key that—who was it, Delonte West?—reached out so easily to intercept?! Only Primitive Kaman, the old purest stuff, just taken down from a lengthy stay on the shelf, throws that pass like that at that time. Having Primitive Kaman available for crunch time in this game was like giving the Maesto the perfect weapon of mass destruction.
4. How about that Al Thornton?
Interesting. Thornton didn’t exactly finish out playing the perfect game, but he was freaking great, and he was great for the specific reason that he was playing against the greatest player of all time. If there’s anybody who is worthy of cheesy superhero movie comparisons it’s obviously Lebron. It’s nuts what that guy does. There were the 4 or 5 amazing plays while the Cavs were getting schooled and missing every shot, and then there was the simple, effective, patient, lethal comeback. And Thornton was tough. He was better on defense than we’ve ever seen him—by a lot—, he was focused and athletic, rebounding and running. It was great. But Superhero Lebron was ultimately just toying with him I guess. The trick is to get Thornton to bring that kind of effort and energy when he goes up against mortals.
Lots to chew on, like I said.