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Clippers Basketball?

I re-watched most of the Hornets game last night.  After just a horrible first quarter (reminiscent in fact of the first quarter in the Clippers-Hornets game at Staples in November), the Clippers played pretty well.  Some unlikely shooting by the likes of Devin Brown and Desmond Mason, against pretty good Clipper defense, stretched the Hornets' lead back to 10 the first couple of times the Clippers made runs, but it certainly felt like the Clippers would eventually put them away, which is in fact what happened.

The put away came 2 minutes into the fourth quarter when Sam, the closer, re-entered the game.  On the next 8 possessions, the Clippers scored 17 points on 7 for 9 shooting, including 3 for 3 on 3's.  Of the 17 points, 10 were by the closer, including 7 straight, and 15 were on jump shots.  The resultant 17 to 3 run turned a 3 point deficit into an 11 point lead with 5 minutes left in the game, and it was all over.

It was all a lot of fun.  But was it sustainable?  The run went something like this:

  • Kaman offensive rebound put back

  • Cassell for 3 from a Mobley assist

  • Thomas for 3 from a Singleton assist

  • Mobley miss

  • Cassell jumper off a Brand screen
  • Cassell for 3 (Brand got an assist, but not really)

  • Cassell jumper

  • Mobley jumper

The 7 straight by Cassell involved exactly one accidental touch for players under 37, when the ball slipped out of his hands and ended up with Brand.  He promptly passed it back to Sam who drained a three.  So the offense during that stretch was 'give the ball to Sam and let him shoot.'  Sure, the Brand pick-and-roll is a valid option for the Clippers, and that particular play looked a little like team basketball.  But the others were pure one-on-one.  Against poor little Jannero Pargo, which seems no unlike child abuse.  

The first 2 threes resulted from good floor balance and crisp passing, which are good things, but how many games are the Clippers going to win this season making three pointers in the fourth quarter?  Don't get me wrong... I'll take it, but in the big picture, is Sammy shooting a three from a Mobley kick out a 'good' shot?  

Still, it is nice to have offensive options once again.  The Atlanta game remains a bad loss, but it may be that we've been a little hard on the team.  I myself have made a big deal of the fact that the Clippers' only road victories have come against teams playing without one or more of their best players.  Well, with Mobley rendered basically useless (he was 2 for 18 through 9 quarters before the elbow fairy waved her magic wand about 5:45 last night), the Clippers played in Washington and Atlanta without their 2nd, 3rd and 4th leading scorers.  That's significant.  In retrospect, it's amazing that the Clippers played the Wizards as close as they did.  The Hawks remain awful, but with Kaman and Livingston both ineffective, Elton Brand was playing offense by himself.  No wonder they only scored 74 points.

Because I had to pick up my daughter from gymnastics last night, I watched the second quarter for the first time today.  Seeing what James Singleton did in that quarter, one really has to wonder why he didn't get off the bench in Atlanta.  Even the matchup (Marvin Williams) seemed to dictate an early call for James.  But in a game in which the Clippers got beat on the boards, forced only 10 turnovers, were out-hustled to every loose ball, were playing without Maggette and essentially without Mobley, James Singleton got a DNP CD.  Citizen John R. recommends I not think too much about MDSr's mysterious ways, for fear of brainbubbles, but how in the world can you explain that?  In a game where only Elton Brand was playing well enough to merit remaining on the floor, where the Clippers very clearly needed something to energize them, the team's ONLY energy guy sits on the bench.  The next night he plays 20 minutes and is instrumental in turning the team's fortunes around.  It's entirely possible that Singleton would not have made a difference in the Atlanta game, but the fact that we didn't find out is maddening.  Coach's Decision indeed.  Coach's inexplicable, costly, wrong decision.

At any rate, there's some reason for cautious optimism.  After all, Sam Cassell is shooting 60% from the three point arc in 2007, and the Clippers are undefeated in their blue uniforms when Cassell plays.  Seriously, it's got to be mostly mental, but that was the first time that Sam has played with the traditional ball (© Michael Smith) this season, a close friend of his for the last 14 years.  After the game Sam had this to say:

Thank God for the old ball. Now I can shoot. I think I was shooting like 13 percent from behind the arc with the new ball. That new ball was terrible. It was too light. This one, you can actually shoot it.

Let's see what happens in Minnesota.  It's definitely nice having options on offense, but I'd also like to see Elton get some fourth quarter touches.