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Knicks 102 - Clippers 90

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This game was painful.

On the strength of 33 first half points for Elton Brand (13), Chris Kaman (10) and Tim Thomas (10), the Clippers took a 53-43 lead into halftime at the Garden.  The gameplan appeared to be going perfectly - double team Curry in the post, rotate to the three point shooters to get a hand up.  The Knicks were 1 for 9 on three pointers in the first half.  Meanwhile, the Knicks were still having trouble with Brand who had lit them up for 32 in December, Kaman was having a good game, and Thomas was continuing his strong play.  Even Doug Christie made a jumper, his first in 15 months.  As Steinbeck once wrote, the world was spinning in greased grooves.

3:37 into the second half, the game was tied after the Knicks opened the scoring with 10 straight.  Three minutes after that, they were down 5, and three minutes after that, they were down 10.  At this point, in nine and a half minutes, the Knicks had outscored the Clippers 24-4.  The Clippers had as many air balls in the quarter as baskets (2 each), and more turnovers (3).

At the end of 3, the score was 70-64 New York, and despite their worst quarter in recent memory, the Clippers were right in the game.  All they needed to do was play one solid quarter of defense to get the road win.  Instead, they gave up 32 points.

Execution was a problem at key junctures.  They had a chance to cut the lead to 2 on several occasions.  The first time, they simply threw the ball away.  A couple minutes later, with the lead 6, they suffered a shot clock violation AFTER A TIME OUT seemingly without anyone being aware that the clock was winding down (neither Kaman nor Mobley, the last two players to touch the ball, ever looked at the basket or even appeared to be in a hurry).  

Of all the depressing numbers in this game (Mobley and Ross combined 0 for 9, 44 Knick free throws to 20 for the Clippers, 27-11 in the third, 59-37 in the second half), none is more depressing than this:  Doug Christie 22 minutes, Corey Maggette 17 minutes.  

I'm not gonna sit here and maintain that Maggette was terrific in this game.  He wasn't.  But 17 minutes?  As it happens, Corey was not on the floor for most of the second half damage.  By the time he made his appearance, his teammates had already turned a 10 point lead into a 7 point deficit.  When he left 8 minutes later, it was still 7.  Like I said, he wasn't good, but he also doesn't seem to have been the root of the problem.  

Instead, MDSr tried to make a stand with Livingston, Cassell, Christie, Thomas and Brand.  Based solely on this game, it looks like we may have been right about Christie - like Cat Mobley, a savvy veteran, a solid defender, not spectacular in any way, and MDSr is gonna LOVE him.  

Maybe we'll read in the paper tomorrow that Maggette's knees were really sore and he just couldn't play.  But don't count on it.  I think MDSr was only too happy to have Christie in uniform and an excuse to pull Corey (although it's pretty harsh to pull a guy for missing two free throws).

At any rate, it's a loss, and the Clippers are right back down to .500.  Because Minnesota and Denver also apparently stink, the Clippers remain tied for the 7th spot.  (What happened to the vaunted West?  Suddenly it's far from certain that all the Western playoff teams will have winning records.)

Of course we probably should have predicted this.  This was the front end of back-to-backs, and the Clippers are now 0-12 in such games.  They get a chance to improve their improbable 8-3 record in second games tomorrow in Cleveland.