Phoenix 127 - Clippers 101 - Random Thoughts on an Ugly Loss

I don't really have the stamina or perhaps the focus to do a major analysis of this loss.  The Clippers were ahead by one at halftime, but the Suns spanked them in the second half.  And not one of those mild, swats on the year that no one notices.  This was a public spanking, like the good old days.  Like you're in the grocery store with your mom in 1971 and you're give her some lip and she puts you over her knee and spanks you right then and there. 

The Clippers make teams look so very good, you wonder how they could possibly ever lose.  Why do the Suns have 24 losses?  How can it be possible?  They can get any shot they want, and even when they take bad shots, the shots go in.  Of course, the Clippers also make the Spurs and Hornets and several other teams look like NBA champs, so obviously it says more about the Clippers than it does about those other teams.  But still, it's hard to imagine anyone beating the Suns the way they shot in the second half.

In that second half, the Suns outscored the Clippers 70-43.  That's ugly.  They scored 39 points in the third quarter when they broke the game open.  So that game LA lost in Phoenix last week, when it was close at halftime but Chris Kaman got kicked out on the first play of the second half and we wondered how the game might have turned out if Kaman had played?  You don't have to wonder anymore, now we know.

On to the random thoughts:

  • The story lines are the story lines, so there's bound to be overlap, but did anyone else notice an unusually high correlation between the Clips Nation game preview and various Fox Sports commentary tonight?  Dain Blanton specifically used the term 'mixed bag' regarding the three earlier meetings, he spoke of the Suns being a game out of home court advantage (a point Milph spoke of later as well), Milph made a big point about Channing Frye's three point output, specifically talking about him being fourth in the league in makes, etc. etc.  They even had a graphic prepared comparing the future outlook for the two franchises.  There are a finite number of interesting things to talk about of course, but I think we know where these guys are doing at least some of their research.  (I'm not mad - I'm proud.  Dain is a great guy and an avid reader of the site, and Milph have always been complimentary of Clips Nation to me.  Maybe a shout out, or at least air quotes next time, Dain.)
  • Speaking of TV graphics, one near the end of the telecast really caught my eye:  "The Suns have beaten the Clippers 8 Straight (including 11 of 12)."  Huh?  How does that work?  You could say "8 straight (AND 11 of 12)" or "11 of 12, (including 8 straight)", but the way they worded it is an impossibility, as neither 11 nor 12 could actually be included in 8.  A few of those would pretty much have to be excluded. 
  • I've made a big deal this season about the fact that neither Tim Duncan nor Tony Parker has played a minute of fourth quarter basketball against the Clippers this season.  Well, I can't be bothered to check all of this, but I know off the top of my head that Steve Nash hasn't played a minute in the fourth quarter of these last two LAC-PHO games, and I strongly suspect he took the fourth off on Christmas also.  For Nash and the Suns, having the Clippers roll over and die twice in the course of a week has been an FSM-send.  Gentry would love to limit Nash's minutes given his age and gimpy back, but can't afford to as they battle for playoff position.  The Clippers are almost like a day off.  Nash played 41 minutes against the Spurs on Sunday - he played 29 and 27 in the two games against the Clippers.
  • Chris Kaman and Baron Davis come in for frequent criticism among some Clipper fans, but it's worth noting that when Kim Hughes took them out just five minutes into the second half it was still a game with the Clippers down 7 with the ball, and by the time they returned it was over.  The Suns went crazy the rest of the way, including a 16-1 run at one point.  Baron was actually breakeven in plus/minus in a 26 point loss.  It's an imperfect stat of course, but it tells you something.
  • Speaking of Kaman, I'm almost certain that there are all kinds of unique things about the complete absence of a 30 point game from his resume.  Highest season scoring average without a 30 point game, most career points for a double digit scorer without a 30 point game, stuff like that.  I haven't quite figured out how to structure the query in basketball-reference.com (it's tough to combine career data and game data in the same query), and I'm not digging through every box score to figure it out, but I'll come up with something.  With 18 in the first half against the characteristically porous Phoenix defense, I really thought this was going to be the night.  But the Clippers only managed to get him 4 shots in the second half in his limited minutes (limited by Hughes' new 'rest him early' subsitution pattern and the premature onset of garbage time).
  • Speaking of Baron, he and Steve Nash had eerily similar lines in this game.  They were each 1 for 5 from the field; they each had 2 defensive rebounds and 1 steal.  Baron played 25 minutes, Nash 27.  Nash had 13 assists, Baron 11.  Baron had 1 turnover, Nash 2.  Seems like this game might have been lost elsewhere.
  • There are lots of reasons the Clippers fell apart in the second half, but one of them was lazy passing.  In the third quarter, especially during the 16-1 run, they threw multiple lackadaisical passes that didn't have any urgency at all.  They just kind of tossed the ball.  It was actually a good game overall from a turnover standpoint with only 13 total, but almost half of those came in the decisive third quarter when the Clippers lost their focus.
  • One of the third quarter turnovers was a call against Rasual Butler for setting a pick out of bounds, a violation by the letter of the NBA rulebook.  Ralph joked that he sees that call about once a year, and that seems about right to me as well - it's almost never called.  Here's the thing (and this really drives me completely crazy):  Sool wasn't out of bounds on the play.  Eli Roe blew the call.  How in FSM's name do you make a once a year call AND GET IT WRONG?  You're telling me, you went out of your way to dust off that page of the rulebook, and it wasn't even the right call?  That kind of thing makes me nuts.  I know, refs are humans and they make mistakes.  But it's one thing to get a charge/block wrong - bodies are on the floor, you have to blow the whistle, maybe you didn't get a good look, you get it wrong under pressure; it happens, I get it.  But 5 seconds into the shot clock, 30 feet off the ball, you're going to pick a nit and there wasn't even a nit there in the first place?  This is the kind of stuff that makes people think refs have agendas.
  • Milph made a point late in the game that I've made on several occasions - that a green light from the coach can give a player the confidence to be a better shooter.  They were referring on this Suns team to Frye and Jared Dudley of course.  Then Smith said something that frankly didn't feel true:  he said that Quentin Richardson had a career year shooting the three when he played for the Suns.  I doubted that was in fact the case, so I looked it up.  Turns out, over the course of 10 NBA seasons, Q's three point percentage his one year in Arizona of .358 is only very slightly better than his career percentage of .356.  In fact, it is only his fifth best season percentage-wise shooting the three ball.  Sure, he led the league in makes that season - but he also led the league in attempts.  It's not news that if you have a green light to shoot more threes, you'll shoot more threes, nor that if you shoot more threes you'll make more threes.  What we're wondering is whether the green light makes you a BETTER shooter, a la Frye (.286 before PHO, .429 with PHO) or Dudley (.245 before PHO, .424 with PHO).  If you're reading this Smith, you airballed that Q reference.
  • Do the Clipper players know what the clear path rule is or do they not?  If I were an NBA coach, I would run a clear path practice drill every day until my players had it right, and then I would fine any player that screwed it up in a game.  It's a definable situation, the penalty to your team for getting it wrong is high, you are a professional basketball player and need to know the rules - STOPPING GIVING CLEAR PATH FOULS! 
  • I started to turn the game off several times.  I didn't start watching until 10 PM, it was over early, I knew I had a recap to write, I was sleepy.  But for some reason I kept watching to the bitter end.  I don't know why I didn't bail earlier, but for the last few minutes I know what kept me there - it was the bizarre Milph trivia question concerning the only MVP who had never been to an NBA Finals.  Ralph actually had me going, for a long time, that he didn't know that Mike was talking about Nash.  I actually stayed through a commercial, to see how the whole thing would end, and of course shortly after that I realized that Ralph was sandbagging.  It's a grand Clippers tradition - the inane garbage time banter of the blow out, and Milph are the masters of it.  Of course they got in trouble with it earlier this season with l'affaire Haddadi, but the commentary is never dull, even when the game is excruciating.  Speaking of Milph trivia, as a longtime Suns fan, I got the Walter Davis question immediately.
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