What the hell happened to the Mavericks? Oh, wait, I should probably lead with the Clippers. They beat the Mavs tonight. They looked great in the second half - outscored Dallas 60-35. Great defense. Great adjustments by Dunleavy at halftime. Mobley and Cassell were terrific.
But seriously, what the hell happened to the Mavericks? The defending Western Conference Champions, returning basically their entire core, but they're oh and four, and just getting killed in the fourth quarter of games. And sure, Josh Howard wasn't playing tonight, but he was playing in the other three losses.
Obviously they're going through a tough time, and they're not really this bad. But I'm also tempted to say that maybe last year's team was an anomaly. Maybe that team wasn't really 60 wins good. I'm not sure how they won 60 games if they weren't 60 wins good, but I'm looking at them now, and realizing, eh, they're not so tough. They start three guys who are poor defenders (four tonight, with Howard out), and they're not that good offensively that they can always make up for it. If you make Dirk work hard, as the Clippers did tonight, holding him to 7 for 20 shooting, then they've got trouble. Terry's going to get his, and maybe Stackhouse, but who else is going to score for them?
Back to this game. Definitely a nice win, lifting the Clippers to 4-1. Combined with the Lakers loss in Portland, the Clippers are now in first place in the Pacific Division. Amazingly, the Clippers have a 3 game cushion over 1-4 Phoenix a mere 5 games into the season. But let's not get ahead of ourselves (let's just stay ahead of Phoenix).
Dunleavy said an interesting thing in the post-game interview. Kaman was 2-7 with 3 fouls in the first half (the third foul being a very tough illegal screen call that netted MD a Technical Foul). All 7 shots were good looks - Kaman was taking the ball right at Dirk, and getting good shots, but they weren't going in. Now, if it's me, I'm tempted to say, "Let's keep going there, the shots will fall." But Dunleavy said, "Those shots aren't falling, it's not his night. Let's get Kaman out of the game and put some athletes on the floor to play better on the ball defense." He started the second half with Livingston, Cassell, Mobley, Ross and Brand in the game, put Mobley on Nowitzki, and the Clippers pretty much smoked them from there.
And by the way, Mobley has been a revelation on defense since becoming a Clipper. Everyone talks about Ross' defensive prowess, but few seem to recall that it was Mobley who drew the primary assignment against Carmelo in last season's playoffs. Cat's ability to guard much bigger players is uncanny. Obviously, other teams have had success putting smaller defenders on Dirk. But TMac and Bruce Bowen and Shawn Marion are 6'7" - Cat's 6'4". He's giving away 7 or 8 inches to Dirk.
Where did this defensive stopper thing come from? He was a scorer at Houston, Orlando and Sacramento. I don't ever remember watching Cat Mobley play and being impressed by his defense. Am I just wrong? Did I miss it? Anyway, I thought we signed him to make threes. He's been a bit of a bust on the three point shooting, but it turns out we signed him to play D. When the Clippers have Livingston, Ross and Cat in, with Elton protecting the basket, that's a pretty good defensive unit. It doesn't even much matter who the 5th guy is.
And let's be clear, the Clippers won this game with defense. After giving up 32 points in the first quarter, the Clippers allowed fewer the 20 points in each quarter the rest of the way. Every Dallas shot was contested.
On the offensive end, the Clippers proved once again that they are the best post-up team in basketball. Only it was their guards who were doing the posting up. The ability to play with your back to the basket is so important, but fewer and fewer players can do it. The Clippers are absolutely blessed to have both Mobley and Cassell, and those two TORCHED whoever Avery Johnson put on them in the second half.
Maggette continued his rebounding tear with 12 boards to go with his 12 points in 31 minutes. When he made two monumentally stupid plays in the first half (taking his eye off a pass that should have led to a dunk and compounding that error by stepping out of bounds when he still had a chance to recover, and then throwing a wild, backwards, over-the-head, blind pass that was stolen), I really thought we'd seen the end of him; that Dunleavy was going to bury him. Fortunately for Corey, MD went small in the second half, so he needed all of his wings. If you throw out the food poisoning game, Corey is averaging a double-double on the young season, 17 points and 10 rebounds. Those seem like Sixth Man Award numbers to me.
But the star of this game was Cat. 28 points, 7 boards, 3 assists, 4 steals, 10-15 shooting and stellar defense on one of the premier scorers in the league. I'm pretty sure you can't ask for more than that. What a luxury it is to have 6 or 7 different guys who can carry the scoring load on any given night. Tonight it was Cat.
4-1 and in first place in the division. And maybe we actually saw the pieces falling into place in the second half. That's a pretty good place to be.