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Rockets 108 - Clippers 103

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I've been so distracted by the Iverson situation lately that I feel like I haven't written a lot about basketball.  Besides, if a trade was imminent, what would be the point of breaking down the current Clippers ad nauseum?  It could all change post-trade.

But after yesterday's loss to a Rockets team sans TMac, I feel like I could write about 1,000 words on any number of topics.  I'll try to edit myself some, since you guys all have to work today.  

The Game

Yao Ming is really an extraordinary basketball talent.  The very fact that a guy 7'6" and 310 shoots 86% from the free throw line tells you a lot.  He is an exceptionally good passer.  Consider that the Clippers double teamed him almost every time he touched the ball, and he committed 1 turnover compared with 5 assists.  On the season he's averaging 4 turnovers and 2.3 assists, so obviously this was a particularly good game for him.  But you have to give him credit.  I felt like the Clippers double teams were aggressive enough - he just beat them all day.

When you double, by definition something is going to be open.  You would prefer that it not be a guy under the basket for a lay-up (although the Clippers left there share of those).  Instead, you would like to leave the toughest pass unguarded, and hope that the double team is effective enough that Yao can't make a tough pass.  Of course, here's where being 7'6" comes in handy.  You pretty much CAN'T take away his sight lines or consistently bother his passing angles.  He just looks over you and throws over you.  And now the race is on - can the rotations catch up to the shooters.  Houston made 8 of 17 threes in the game, so the answer in many cases was `No.'

Yao dominated this game on offense.  With the exception of brief stretches where Rafer Alston went at Shaun Livingston effectively, Houston ran basically every possession through Yao.  He responded with 32 points on 18 shots and the aforementioned 5 assists.  Of course many, if not most, of Houston's 8 three point makes resulted from Yao without him being credited with an assist, as he passed out of the double team and then the second third or fourth pass led to the basket.  Incidentally, unlike in prior meeting, I thought Chris Kaman did an admirable job against Yao.  MDSr seemed to agree, as he left Kaman on Yao during a stretch in the second half when Aaron Williams was on the floor spelling Elton Brand.  One of the few times the Clippers didn't double team, Kaman actually blocked Yao's shot.  But on the whole, he just made a lot of tough, contested shots.

The Clippers lost this game in the 3rd quarter.  After leading at halftime by a single point, they gave up an 11-0 run to start the quarter, and 34 points in all.  This is against a team that is 21st in the league in scoring, playing without their second leading scorer.  In the quarter, the Rockets shot 12 for 18, including 5 for 6 threes, resulting in the following astounding statistics:

  • FG% 66.7%

  • eFG% 80.6%

  • points per shot 1.89

The Clippers forced 1 turnover in the quarter.  So, if the question his, how can the McGrady-less Houston Rockets score 34 points in a quarter, the answer is, by scoring on all but 7 possessions, and by making 5 threes.  Those offensive efficiency numbers are simply ridiculous.

Despite the 3rd quarter, and despite the Clippers inability to string enough defensive stops together to make a decent run (6 straight points was the most they could muster), they were within 4 points with 45 seconds to go and still had a chance.  The Clippers, in desperate need of a stop, played good defense and the ball came loose.  With 7 seconds on Houston's shot clock, 28 seconds in the game, and Shaun Livingston closest to the loose ball, Livingston was called for the loose ball foul.  Now, let me just say that I forgot to set the TiVo, and I have not seen a replay.  But from section 304 (not the best vantage point, I realize) it sure looked like Shaun was just one of several guys fighting for the ball, and was in the best position to get it.  If a ball is loose, it is rare that the guy in the best position would commit the foul.  Anyone who saw the play care to enlighten me?

Not that it would have mattered probably, but it would have been nice to get at least one stop when we really needed it.  Big stops were a trademark of this team last season (and even in some early victories this season), but I really can't remember the last time we got one.

Was there any good news?  Well, in excuse land, I should at least mention that the Clippers played without Sam Cassell, and that Tim Thomas logged only 4 minutes due to two separate injuries, the second being an elbow injury (sounds like he got hit on his funny bone); he is listed as day-to-day.  Daniel Ewing was beyond ineffective in his 6 minutes, which left Shaun to play 43 minutes.

Livingston responded with his most impressive fantasy basketball line ever: 21 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and only 2 turnovers.  Amazingly, he managed this while still looking passive and somewhat timid.  If this guy EVER really asserts himself on a basketball court, he will lead the league in triple doubles.  I'm not convinced that's going to happen, mind you.  He may not have the right temperament.  But he has the talent.  

Corey Maggette carried the Clippers in the 4th quarter, scoring 13 points on 6 for 8 shooting, mostly jump shots, believe it or not.  He was limited to 27 minutes because of 3 first half fouls (the Clippers were so short-handed in this game that MDSr would have actually played Corey, had it not been for the foul-trouble).  

Kaman, who as mentioned did OK against Yao, had his first 20 point effort of the season, and also grabbed 11 boards.  Unfortunately, he also committed 5 turnovers, and missed 9 mostly makeable shots.  Chris may benefit more than any other player in the league from the switch back to the leather balls.  Not that there's any logical explanation for it, but the ball went in the hoop for him last year, and it won't this year.  If only from a psychological standpoint, he'll have to be happy to be rid of the micro-fiber ball in January.

This good news was certainly outweighed by the same old bad news.  Ineffective defense, slow rotations, and most disconcerting of all, a disappearing Elton Brand.  After scoring 10 points in the first quarter, EB only TOOK 3 shots in the second half.  So while his line looks great (19 points on 12 shots, 9 boards, 3 assists, 2 blocks), we all know that games are won in the fourth quarter, when Elton was 0 for 1, with 2 free throws.  

The Clippers finally get another Eastern Conference team, and a weak one at that, when Toronto comes to town on Wednesday.  But after the Raptors, it's three road games against three top West teams (Dallas, Houston and Utah).  So although 3 games below .500 feels pretty lousy, it may seem like the good old days when we're at 11-16 the day after Christmas.

(That's 1200 words on the game.)