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Magic 113 - Clippers 106

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So many ledes, so little time...

I don't want to stay up all night, but here are the six or so posts I could write about this game.

Lede 1 - The Psychology of Trailing

The Clippers fell behind by 18 points in the first quarter through a combination of atrocious offense and disinterested defense (and some pretty good shooting by the Magic).  From a score of 35-17, the Clippers started their journey back, beginning with a Corey Maggette three to end the first.  

They began playing better defense, which in turn led to better offense, and eventually they got to within 1 point early in the third quarter.  But never caught the Magic.

Then, in another dismal stretch, they once again fell behind by 18.  And they once again fought back with solid defense and some timely shooting.  And they got to within one point, coincidentally at 99-98, so that our boy Ralph became particularly interested in the next bucket.  That bucket turned out to be a Rashard Lewis three, Lawler's Law clicked in, and the game was over soon thereafter.

During their night-long comeback, the Clippers on five separate occasions had the ball down by either 1 or 2 points, with a chance to tie or take the lead.  Here are those 5 possessions:

6:09 2nd, 43-41 - Josh Powell misses a 16 footer with 10 seconds on the shot clock.  Really?  This is the shot we want with a chance to completely erase an 18 point deficit?

At the other end, Turkoglu gets the and-one three point play.  

2:44 2nd, 50-48 - Chris Kaman is called for an offensive foul.  Remember that lob play they ran for Thornton in the Spurs game when they were down two in the fourth?  Same play.  Kaman was called for a foul setting the back screen on Evans guarding Al.  It was a crap call - not a foul.  Turns out the play wasn't going to work since Howard was standing in front of the rim at the time, but it stunk to not even get a shot with a chance to tie.

At the other end, Bogans nails a three.  

10:29 3rd, 59-58 - OK, I can't emphasize this enough.  The Clippers have erased all but 1 point of an 18 point hole.  They have scored the first four points of the second half, and have Kaman at the line shooting two free throws.  He misses the first.  He misses the second.

The Magic then go on a 23-6 run to open up... you guessed it... an 18 point lead.

And still the Clippers come back.  

4:15 4th, 99-98 - Dwight Howard has just been stuffed by Kaman inside, after which he drew a technical foul for complaining about how people aren't supposed to do that.  After Maggette makes the T to bring them within one, the Clippers flash Cat across the lane thinking he has a post up advantage on Dooling. But Dooling plays it well, and Cat has nothing.  The other four Clippers are standing, not that Cat was really looking to pass the ball.  He forces a very tough shot which clangs off the rim.

This time, for the first time, the Clippers actually get another stop so they get another shot to take the lead.

3:19 4th, 99-98 - The Clippers set looks a little better this time.  Maggette has the ball high on the left, and they want Thomas against Rashard on the left block (Thomas has been a monster all night).  Lewis is fronting the post, and Howard has the basket.  Kaman wisely flashes to the high post, and when Howard has to follow, Jameer Nelson is caught cheating to Thomas from the weak side.  Corey, to his credit, recognizes this and realizes that Brevin Knight is all alone, without a defender within 15 feet of him.  So Corey promptly... throws the ball into the first row.  Brevin is not tall, but this was not a difficult pass to make.  Nobody was there.  He just had to throw it to the guy.

This time, the Magic make their three to push the lead back out.

Five possessions to take the lead.  Two turnovers, two ugly shots, and two missed free throws.

When you come back against a team, if you allow them to retain the lead, you allow them to keep the momentum.  For long stretches of this game, the Clippers weren't just better than the Magic - they were significantly better.  But they couldn't get over the top, and ended up losing a game they really should have won.

Lede 2 - Sam Cassel's Slump

For the third consecutive game, Sam Cassell made 1 field goal.  In his last three, Sam is 3 for 23.  It's one thing to be cold.  But during a 5 minute stretch of the fourth quarter, Sam was 0 for 4.  He used 5 possessions (he did draw a foul and make his free throws) while the Clippers were clawing back.  He used 5 out of 9 possessions and got 2 points out them.  On the other 4 possessions, LA got 7 points on 3 of them, and Kaman had great position on the fourth but got stripped by Evans.  Everything was working... except Sam's shot.  It's one thing to have the testicular fortitude to take big shots in the fourth quarter.  But right now, Sam's balls are too big for the hoop.

Lede 3 - Joe Forte is Off the Christmas Card List

It started before the game.  Some sort of clerical error meant that recently release Richie Frahm was still on the roster that was delivered to the officiating crew instead of just signed Guillermo Diaz.  Forte ruled that Diaz couldn't play if he wasn't on the active roster.  MDsr argued the point vehemently right up to team introductions, and really until the opening tap.  I find this interesting - I mean, MDsr is a pretty anal guy.  He knows the rules better than anyone, and he would know whatever rule Forte was invoking.  Clearly MDsr had some point beyond, 'Oh c'mon Joe, pretty please?  I mean, he's such a good kid.  You're gonna hurt his feelings.'  Whatever argument he used, it didn't work.  And he was pissed.

With 7:45 left in the third (this is as the Clippers only recently re-attached wheels were coming back off), Al Thornton grabbed a defensive rebound.  Howard reached not once but twice to try to knock the ball away from Al, right in front of MDsr, and the coach can be heard yelling for a foul.  Play goes down to the Clippers offensive end, where Sam Cassell misses an easy shot (naturally).  As the Magic bring the ball back up, you can catch a glimpse of MDsr, way out of the coach's box, getting ready to say something choice to Forte, who happens to be patrolling that side.  As play continues, you kind of see Forte getting ready to light the coach up, but the Magic are about to score, which probably gives MDsr enough time to escalate things from a misdemeanor to a felony.  Evans makes the layup, the whistle blows, a couple seconds later the whistle blows again, and MDsr is gone.  

Forte wasn't doing the Clippers any favors during the game.  LA started the second quarter on a 9-0 run, at which point Kaman made an absolutely perfect block on a Dooling dunk attempt.  Forte called a foul, and the Magic had their first points of the quarter.  This block was pristine.  Often when a shot blocker gets the ball, the follow through will get arm, or there will be contact on the body - and usually that is allowed if they get ball.  But I'm telling you, this was literally nothing but ball.  Even Dooling can be seen telling Kaman it was clean.  Who knows what Forte thought he saw.

Foul trouble for Kaman was a major factor in the Clippers third quarter collapse.  If Forte doesn't blow this call, Kaman doesn't pick up his fourth in the third quarter and leave the game.  And as I mentioned before, he also got a bad call setting a back screen.  Frustratingly, of the five fouls called on Chris in the game, only one of them was committed on Howard.  

In the third quarter, Tim Thomas stripped Jammer Nelson on a fast break, and the official closest to the play let it go.  But our friend Mr. Forte decided it was a foul, trailing the play from half court.  (This one could have been called a foul for sure - there was contact.  But it wasn't Forte's call.)

Finally, just to seal the deal, Forte was the one who called a touch foul on Kaman showing on the screen and roll on Turkoglu, 45 feet from the basket, with 12 seconds left in the game and the Clippers down 3.  A stop in that situation and the Clippers still have a chance.  But two Turkoglu free throws courtesy of Monsieur Forte slammed the door.

Anyway, it was a funny sub plot to the game.  It's not often you see such open animosity between a coach and an official.

Lede 4 - A Basketball IQ Test

I was a point guard and captain of my high school basketball team.  I couldn't shoot a bit, but my coach liked me out there - I was his coach on the floor - I'm told I have a high basketball IQ.

Now, I would never actually be in a position to touch a ball sitting on the rim, or goal tend a ball on the other end.  But it is not exactly rocket science that you don't touch a ball AFTER THE WHISTLE has already blown.  In the second quarter, Josh Powell interfered with a Tim Thomas shot that was sitting on the rim AFTER the foul had been called.  The whistle has blown Josh.  Either the ball goes in or not - if you touch it, even if it's not basket interference, the basket won't count, because the play is dead.  This is not a difficult concept.  Don't touch that ball.

Thornton, for his part, goal tended a Rashard Lewis 10 footer about two feet from the rim.  Now, it's got to be tough to judge whether the ball has started coming down at game speed.  But if you're LOTS closer to the basket than you are to the shooter, odds are the ball is going down, you know?  That's just physics.

Corey got a steal in the first quarter, and with Q Ross trailing the play all alone, he went one-on-one against Turkoglu, and never once looked behind him.  The Clippers came away empty.  That's some bad court awareness.

But it gets worse.  At the end of the third quarter, the Clippers got what could have been a crucial stop with 23 second left.  Now, there's this thing in the NBA called the 24 second clock, and when there's only 23 seconds left in the quarter, the 24 second shot shot clock is turned off.  That means it's time to hold for one shot.  Strangely, Brevin Knight did not seem to realize the situation at first, and went flying up court.  But he realized his mistake, and pulled the ball back out.  He passed to Corey - who shot a three with 15 seconds left.  Now, Ralph and Mike were apologizing about how Corey didn't know the clock, and how the other guys told him later and he said 'my bad' like that makes it all better.  WTF?  Did it even occur to him that the clock might be important?  Or, how about during those 7 or 8 seconds from the time the Clippers gained possession until he got the ball, taking just a quick peak at the clock?  It would be one thing if it was a good shot. He took a HORRIBLE shot.  A three pointer 8 seconds into a possession with no rebounders under the basket.  That shot only makes sense if the clock is at 1 or MAYBE if the clock is at 30 (and you want the two for one).  And in either of those cases YOU'D HAVE TO KNOW THE CLOCK!  Monumentally stupid.  

Lede 5 - Why Do I Even Care If the Clippers Win?

This isn't the Clippers team.  They're missing two starters for FSM's sake.  If they play well, but lose, that's sort of like having your cake and eating it too, right?  I mean, if we can get a solid performance from Kaman and Al Thornton, we'll happily take the ping pong balls as well.  But I do care.  I was really mad when Maggette threw that ball out of bounds.

Lede 6 - Chris Kaman is Better Than Dwight Howard

At least he was in this game.  I can only assume this wasn't Howard's best effort.  Yeah, I know he had 17 rebounds to Kaman's 9 (not Chris' best rebounding night - he had one rebound going into the fourth).  But Howard was a non-factor on defense - he had one blocked shot, and meanwhile Chris had better looks in this game than he has had in a while.  It's a shame the refs took Chris off the floor and the Clippers didn't go to him a bit more: he should have gone for 25 at least.

Look, Dwight Howard is a freak.  He is a mountain of a man, and an absurd athlete on top of that.  But he hardly seemed interested in this game.  I realize it's unfair to criticize him for ONLY getting 17 and 17 when I think he should have had more, but that's what I'm doing.  

Howard has no discernible post moves.  Most of his points came after he caught lob passes in deep post position.  Kaman on the other hand displayed his usual array of right and left handed jump hooks and spins, and he even had a couple of dunks.  

I gotta say, if Dwight Howard is the gold standard in NBA centers right now, I'm feeling pretty good about Chris Kaman.