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Hawks 96 - Clippers 93

Leading scorer Elton Brand didn't play because of back spasms.  Second leading scorer Corey Maggette was 2 for 10 with 3 turnovers.  Third leading scorer Sam Cassell was 1 for 8 with 2 turnovers.  Nonetheless, Cutttino Mobley (31 points on 12 for 18 including 4 threes) and Chris Kaman (20 points on 8 for 13 and 13 rebounds) stepped up and carried the Clippers to a 15 point lead early in the 4th quarter.  

Kaman finishes strong (for a change)
                                           © Henry Chen, all rights reserved
The fact that the Clippers lost that lead and subsequently the game 96-93 to the 21-31 Atlanta Hawks didn't actually surprise me.  Mobley had to get so white hot to build the lead that it seemed clear what would happen if he cooled off.  Indeed, somehow the Clippers forgot about Mobley in the fourth quarter (he missed the only two shots he took) and they were outscored 34-18.

Ironically, although the Clippers gave up 34 points in the quarter, their defense was actually pretty solid - when they weren't committing fouls or giving up offensive rebounds.  With Corey committing a silly foul 9 seconds into the quarter and garnering a T for good measure, and James Singleton whistled for three shooting fouls in 130 seconds, the Hawks were in the bonus the final 8 minutes.  In 17 fourth quarter trips to the line, the Hawks scored 13 points.  Atlanta also scored 10 second chance points in the quarter on about 100 offensive rebounds - all told, 21 of their 34 points were either at the line or on second chances (2 of the free throws came after a rebound).  

Meanwhile, the Clippers shooting in the fourth went like this:

  • Thomas 1 for 6 (the one he made was in the final seconds after they'd fallen behind by 4);

  • Cassell 0 for 2 (both in the last 2 minutes);

  • Mobley 0 for 2;

  • Maggette 1 for 3 (including a desperation 3 at the buzzer);

  • Livingston 2 for 3;

  • Kaman 2 for 5.

The main reason Mobley got so few shots in the fourth is because MDsr went to two other matchups: Livingston in the post against small Hawks defenders (Stoudamire and Claxton), and Kaman against Pachulia.  The strategy worked except for a couple of things.  Livingston converted his first post up, and earned a trip to the line on his second - after that, the Hawks sent a double team at him, and he passed out to a wide open Tim Thomas, who missed (badly).  In the quarter Thomas missed three consecutive wide open threes.  Kaman scored twice on Pachulia and then drew fouls on two additional touches - and proceeded to make 1 of 4 free throws.  So for much of the quarter, the Livingston and Kaman matchups were working to perfection, but the Clippers still weren't scoring.  

With the Hawks parading to the line while the Clippers were missing shots and free throws, Atlanta took the lead at 88-87 with 3:17 to go.  Those final 197 seconds were fascinating.  

The team had just blown a 15 point fourth quarter lead and fallen behind by 1, and their leader was wearing a suit.  With the game on the line, the young guys, the ones we've been waiting for all year, Shaun Livingston and Chris Kaman, tried to take over.  And they almost did it.

  • On the Clippers first possession after losing the lead, Livingston accelerated into the lane and found Kaman on the baseline where he was fouled.  He made 1 of 2 free throws.  88-88.
  • Hawks ball, and working against a short shot clock, a Kaman-Livingston double team results in a steal for Kaman and a layup for Shaun.  90-88 Clippers.
  • On the Hawks next possession, Kaman blocks Marvin Williams from the weak side, and then blocks Pachulia's shot on the ball - two monster defensive plays on a crucial possession with just over 2 minutes to go.  (Kaman had 6 blocked shots in the game, tying his career high.)
  • An atrocious Sam Cassell pass (compounded by a lazy Tim Thomas not coming to meet the ball) results in a turnover, and the Clippers are forced to play defense again.  Joe Johnson, the only All Star in the building, goes to work on the 21 year old Livingston, and Shaun blocks his jump shot.

That's where the good news ends.  But for 90 some seconds, in a situation where I fully expected them to disappear (when was the last time that Chris Kaman was even on the floor in the final 3 minutes of a close game, let alone put into the position of go to guy or defensive stopper?), Livingston and Kaman combined for the Clippers only 3 points, a steal and 3 blocked shots.

Unfortunately, Pachulia grabbed the ball after Shaun's block and found Childress to tie the game.  On offense, Cassell took the ball out of Livingston's hands and missed two shots, and Josh Smith read Kaman's move perfectly for a weak side block.  Meanwhile on defense Mobley drew the Johnson assignment in the final 26 seconds and gave up the go ahead basket.  In a dubious decision trying to avoid his 6th foul, MDsr had Kaman and his six blocks on the bench.  (There's 26 seconds left and the score is tied - isn't the stop the first order of business?  Why would you sit your only shot blocker for the most important defensive possession of the game?)

With 19 seconds left the Clippers still had plenty of time to tie the game, but leading scorer Mobley was on the bench with a pulled groin.  They went right to Kaman, who made a decent move but missed the shot.  He hustled to get the rebound, and then made a massive mistake, almost as if he'd never had the ball in his hands in the final seconds of a close NBA game before (which of course, he hadn't) - he panicked and put up a wild shot while there were still 9 seconds on the clock and the Clippers had a timeout.  

So Chris missed 3 of 4 free throws, missed his final 3 shots, and made one complete bonehead play.  He'll have to be in the situation to win the game a few times before he can actually do it.

The fact that the Clippers lost, the fact that they are 3 games under .500 at the All Star break instead of 1 game under .500, the fact that they are tied for 9th in the West instead of alone in 8th - these are all unfortunate, but not particularly significant in the big picture.  Let's face it, if this team goes 15-14 or 16-13 in their final 29 games, they might make the playoffs or they might not, but they're not really going anywhere.  The only hope for this season is that they find some sort of groove after the break, that they close strong (something on the order of 19-10), so that they are building momentum, both for the playoffs (still a likely first round loss) and for next year.  To that end, putting Shaun Livingston and Chris Kaman in the position to make big plays at the end of a close game is a good thing.