It's not easy to outplay the team with the best record in the Western Conference and still come away with the all important loss, but the Clippers managed to do it. By losing, the second worst record in the NBA is well within reach. Memphis has 10 wins like the Clippers. New York and Seattle have 9. Miami has 8. They're all one mildly warm stretch from passing the Clippers in the standings. Only Minnesota seems safe at this point.
But what to do when you're shooting in the high 50's and have 9 point lead and the ball with less than 5 minutes to go?
Start by missing 6 of your last 7 shots. (The Clippers still managed 52% on the game, their first time over 50% this season.)
If you're Cat Mobley, and you started the season as the Clippers go to scorer in the fourth quarter, force up 4 of those shots and miss them all. Hell, miss them badly, just in case.
Don't let Chris Kaman touch the ball for the last 5 minutes.
If you're Corey Maggette and you've made 10 of 12 free throws in the game and are shooting 81% on the year, 82% on your career, miss a pair with 3:19 left and the lead down to 4.
The Clippers easily lost all the lead with a little over a minute to go. But with a chance to take the lead, Devin Harris missed with 28 seconds left and then Brevin Knight was fouled on the rebound. This put LA in a bind. Two more misses and the NBA might start smelling a tank - so Brevin pretty much had to make the free throws. Still, the loss seemed assured, since the Mavs still had 28 seconds left and were only down two.
The Clippers hadn't counted on Jason Terry dropping the ball out of bounds on the inbounds play.
With 27 seconds left, a two point lead and the ball, a team that wanted to win would only have to do one thing - hold the ball until the very last second of the 24 second shot clock. By simply hitting the rim at the end of the shot clock, by the time Dallas could grab the rebound and call timeout, they would be faced with 2 seconds or fewer on the clock. By simply holding the ball and doing nothing, the game clock would be down to 3 seconds. With that little time left, a team has to have their first option work - it's not easy to score in that situation.
Not to worry. Tim Thomas brilliantly forced a terrible shot with 6 seconds on the shot clock, giving Dallas a full 8 to work with. As a player with a long history of bonehead plays, the league won't even suspect that he was throwing the game - it's just another stupid decision in Thomas' career. That's the genius of it.
With plenty of time to work, Dirk Nowitzki could draw a double team, kick to Jason Terry who would swing to a wide open Jerry Stackhouse. With no rotation in sight (and let's face it, with the clock down to 1, the only thing left to do in that situation was rotate to Stackhouse), he calmly buried the three for the win.
Everybody goes home happy.