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Bucks 87 - Clippers 78

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18 seconds into the second half, Chris Kaman made a jump shot to give the Clippers a 51-36 lead over the Bucks.  It was their 21st field goal in 43 attempts (49%) to that point.  They proceeded to be outscored 51-27 the rest of the game, connecting on 8 of their final 32 field goal attempts (25%) on their way to an 87-78 loss to a team that was 1-6 on the road and riding a four game losing streak.  

And the question isn't really, how could they have shot so poorly at the end, but rather, how could they have shot so well in the beginning?  25% seems about right for this group at this point.

The Clippers suited 11 players.  They played 10 (Josh Powell being the only healthy body that did not enter the game).  Of those 10, half of them are woeful offensive players - Quinton Ross (31 minutes), Brevin Knight (29), Aaron Williams (5), Paul Davis (5) and Ruben Patterson (4).  Don't get me wrong; I love the defense, and I'm sure they're all super nice guys (OK, maybe not all of them), but they CAN'T SHOOT.  They have never been able to shoot in their NBA careers, and most of them are shooting significantly worse this season, for whatever reason.

In addition to the 5 members of 'The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight', you have Cat Mobley and Dan Dickau.  Both Mobley and Dickau are ostensibly good offensive players, and in particular good shooters.  And both of them are playing with sore shooting elbows.  Mobley was 2 for 9 in this game, making him 17 for 60 during the Clippers' six game losing streak.  Dickau was 2 for 6, including 0 for 4 on his three point attempts.

That leaves you with three guys that can score.  And I'm not talking about three Kobes here. I'm saying that Maggette, Kaman and Thomas are at least legitimate threats to score.  Unlike the other seven guys last night, you are not spit-take shocked when one of them makes a shot.  

And that, citizens, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with this team.

The Clippers, as currently constituted, given the number of injuries they have and the players that are injured (i.e. 5 of their 8 best scorers are off the table counting Mobley) must surely be the worst offensive team in the NBA.  Chicago has been bad.  Minnesota certainly struggles.  But both are significantly better than the team we've seen the last few games.  

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Clippers' role players, for the most part, are the all-defense, no-offense types.  In the NBA, if you are good at both things, you are probably starting.  Therefore, most NBA benches tend to be filled with guys who can score (Jason Kapono, Flip Murray, etc.) or guys who can defend (Ime Udoka, Yakhouba Diawara, etc.).  The Clippers, hewing to the personality of their coach, mostly have the defensive types.  Dickau and Thornton are the only non-regulars for the Clippers who you look at and say, 'yeah, that guy could easily score a bunch on any given night.'  And they're off the table also.

When the Bucks switched to a zone defense in the second quarter, the Clippers looked awful against it.  There was no penetration, no inside-out attack - just passes around the perimeter.  And I thought to myself, 'This looks bad - every team should play zone against these guys.'  But the Clippers did manage to make three three pointers while they were passing around the perimeter, and they were able to maintain their lead.  

The Bucks came out in the second half in an aggressive man-to-man, and the Clippers offense went from bad to worse.  And then I realized - deciding what defense to play against these Clippers is like deciding what line to use on the slutty girl in high school.  It doesn't matter - anything will work.  

In home losses to the Pacers and Bucks, the Clippers have scored 19 and 14 fourth quarter points.  And these are two VERY BAD defensive teams.  The Clippers are so limited at this point, a little extra effort (as teams tend to put out in the fourth quarter of a close game) is enough to shut them down completely.

The Bucks double teamed Kaman aggressively in the first half, often with Yi joining Bogut, meaning they had 14 feet of defenders on the guy.  Kaman actually did a pretty good job of handling it, and the Clippers got two layups as a result.  In the second half, Bogut worked hard to push Kaman further out on the catch, and the Bucks guards stunted at Chris to keep him off balance.  Still, the Clippers needed to do a better job of getting him the ball in better position.  14 shots is not enough, particularly when nothing else is going well.

In my game preview, two bullets really jump out in hindsight.  I talked about containing Redd - first half, Redd 4 points, Clippers 13 point lead, second half, Redd 21 points, Clippers lose.  And I talked about someone stepping up to help on offense.  In the first half, Tim Thomas was looking to school Yi, and he put up 11 points.  In the second half, he scored 5 - and only took one shot that was not a three pointer.  I'm not a huge fan of Thomas' game going to the basket - but the simple fact is that it was one of the things that was working in the first half.  Yi is a 20 year old rookie, and Thomas was getting the best of him.

As for Kaman, it was a difficult game.  He adjusted to the quick doubles, and then the Bucks crossed him up again.  It certainly doesn't help that very few of his teammates can make an entry pass.  13 points and 11 rebounds are off his season averages, but he was a beast on defense, tying his career high with 6 blocks.  He was getting very little help on the glass - time and again he seemed to be the only Clipper battling two or three Bucks for the ball.  When you look at minus 18 on the boards, and 11 offensive rebounds for Milwaukee, it's hard to believe that LA was only down 2 with 2 minutes to go.  It's a testament to how far he's come this season that I'm a little disappointed in his 12th double-double of the season.

And yet I am.  Six field goals, half of which were jump shots.  I'm thrilled that he's added that shot, but he's a great post scorer.  Three jump shots means he made three baskets on the post up.  That's just not enough (though Bogut played very strong defense).  Two plays in the second half were classic, last season Kaman.  With a little more than 2 minutes to go in the third, Bogut fouls Kaman overplaying the entry pass.  The whistle blows, but Kaman has a clear alley to the basket.  Most bigs, in that situation, go in and stuff the ball after the whistle - you know, cuz it's fun.  Kaman dribbles in and throws up a crazy left handed reverse layup - which he misses of course.  Dead ball, no harm done, no big deal.  But it's indicative.  Why does this guy act like Tony Parker around the basket when he should act like Shaquille O'Neal?  OK, you know where I'm going next.  Six minutes left in the game, the Clippers have just given up six straight and trail by five, their biggest deficit to that point.  After a Cat Mobley miss, Dickau gets an unlikely offensive rebound and gets the ball to Kaman, who finds himself with a clear path to the basket.  Instead of gathering himself and DUNKING THE DAMN BALL, he once again becomes ballerina Chris, and decides he's going to ever-so-gently slip the ball into the net, like it's an egg or a vial of nitro-glycerin.  With the dexterity of a surgeon, he flips the ball with his left hand... and shoots the one-footer exactly zero feet.  An air ball.  He catches his own miss, and is whistled for traveling.  On a shot he should have dunked.  The guy can still be a tad frustrating.

That play hurt, as did a couple others later in the quarter.  I don't think that the Clippers were going to win this game at any rate, but I have to point out two calls that were made in the final 2 minutes.  The following comment comes from the Open Thread:

CM once again comes through with a TO while looking for a foul towards the end of a close game...If I had a nickel for each time he's done that since he's been a Clipper, I could afford court side tix...to the LAKERS, no less!

We've all been frustrated with Corey at times, but he had exactly one turnover in this game - this one, and it was a bad call.  Let's face facts - while charge-block is often debatable, the refs got this one wrong, and it wasn't one of the more difficult cases - Bogut is still moving.  Down five with 100 seconds left, if Corey gets an and-one in that situation, he's clutch, and the Clippers are still in the game.  Ask yourself this question - imagine that play happened with ANY OTHER SCORING WING in the NBA.  That contact, with Andrew Bogut, in that situation.  What's the call?  Kobe, LBJ, DWade, TMac, Redd... hell, Kevin friggin' Martin.  I'm no conspiracy theorist, but Corey Maggette is arguably the only big time scorer in the NBA who gets called for a charge there.  Right?  Tell me I'm wrong.

Next possession.  Clippers down 5, 1:20 left, maybe there's still hope if you get a stop here.  Redd gets the ball on the baseline and makes a beautiful step-through move on Mobley for the bucket, 7 point lead, ball game.  But wait.  Run that back on the TiVo.  The pivot foot is a funny thing in basketball.  Obviously, it's never completely stationary.  You pivot on the ball of your foot, the heal moves.  And maybe the foot slides a little, and maybe the refs let you get away with it.  Watch that move again.  Redd slides his right foot, his pivot foot, at least two feet.  And by the way, this movement is instrumental in him getting around Mobley.  The net effect of the sliding pivot foot is that Redd takes 4 steps.  The legal move is right-left-left with the right foot remaining stationary.  With his extra slide, his move was right-left-right-left - four steps without dribbling.  Hard to defend.

I'm not sure why Ralph and Mike didn't notice this one.  It happened fast, but I noticed it in real time, and I encourage you to go back and look at it if you have it on TiVo.  If I was geeky enough, I'd put it up on YouTube for you.  There was another egregious and obvious Redd travel earlier in the fourth that Ralph and Mike were all over.  Ralph went out of his way to say that the crew simply wasn't calling traveling in this game.  Of course, they did call it a few times, which is almost more frustrating.  The complete absence of consistency is just ridiculous.  Yes, Bobby Simmons shuffled his feet starting his move a couple times.  But what about when Redd takes FOUR steps?  Of course, any officiating crew that involves Violet Palmer is starting off at a disadvantage.

One final thought - I posted about Mobley's ineffectiveness of late, and wondered if MDsr should have rested him and let him get healthy.  Cat was injured in the 4th game.  Since he came back, the Clippers have two wins (New York and Denver) and eight losses in three weeks.  Cat has been playing hurt, and while we can't know for certain what would have happened, it certainly seems likely that he is still playing hurt today, at least partly because he came back from the injuries too soon.  It also seems reasonable to think that at home against the Pacers and Bucks (not to mention tonight in Seattle) would be winnable games with just one more healthy scorer.  

The team is in a pretty desperate situation, given the spate of injuries to key players.  But a loss is a loss - and they can't beat teams without Brand and with other key players limited by injury.  It's clear at this point that they should have let Mobley rest and recover while they were playing that tough stretch where wins were unlikely regardless.  Now that they need him in some winnable games, he's still ineffective.