The Utah Jazz are a formidable opponent. Deron Williams is one of the best young point guards in the league and was a key member of this summer's USA Olympic Team. Carlos Boozer has become a fixture on the All Star team. It's no shame to lose to those guys.
Indeed, the Clippers did not lose this game to Williams and Boozer. They lost to Brevin Knight and Paul Millsap. See, Williams didn't play, and Boozer didn't play the fourth quarter. The Clippers and Jazz were tied at 57 with 2 minutes to go in the third. In the final 14 minutes, they were outscored 32-16, and Millsap alone accounted for 17 of them, including 15 in a row in the fourth. He outscored the Clippers by himself in the final period, 15-13.
It's actually pretty hard to describe just how bad that fourth quarter was. I want to put some sort of spin on it. "They're still getting accustomed to playing together." "Baron and Camby were rusty in their first games back." But there's just really nothing good to say. It was one of the ugliest periods of basketball imaginable from a professional basketball team. After going 3 for 20 in the third period in Utah, they made 2 of 13 field goals in the final period of this one. They made zero field goals in the last 7:59, the second time in the opening week of the season that they've gone that long in the fourth period of a home game. So far on the young season, when the Clippers opponent, no matter who it has been, has picked up their intensity, the Clippers have wilted under the pressure. Not a slow, gradual decline, either. An immediate and complete collapse. And I'm not sure how to explain that. It's simply not acceptable.
In the words of assistant coach Kim Hughes in a post game radio interview, Millsap 'beasted' them on the boards in the fourth. I'd say that's accurate. What is incredibly frustrating about this is that Camby was playing for the first time this season. With Kaman and Camby, the Clippers figured to be a great defensive rebounding team. If nothing else, we figured they'd be able to rebound. Instead, rebounding was a struggle the entire game. Utah simply seemed more active. Throughout the game, even when someone eventually corralled the ball and it went into the scorebook as a rebound for the Clippers, it was seemingly never clean. Despite having position, a Jazz player would get a hand in, keep the ball alive, making every rebound an adventure. And in the fourth quarter it caught up with them.
It didn't help that Tim Thomas was playing the four (matched up on the guy who went into 'beast' mode not coincidentally) for the first 6:36 of the period. The period started with Kaman, who was 9 for 11 at the time and had just finished a 5 for 5 third quarter, getting a rest. Fine, players need rest during a game. When he got up off the bench at 7:46, Millsap was at the line extending the Jazz lead to to 9. I was sure he'd be in for Thomas, but instead it was Camby who went to the bench. Fine, first game of the season for him, he was probably pretty tired. Unfortunately, by the time Camby returned at 5:24 to finally get Thomas off the floor, Millsap had scored 13 straight, the Jazz were up 15, and the game was over.
Had it not been for Millsap and the fourth period, the story of this game might have been the Clippers inability to get to the line, and total inability to make free throws when they did. Through the first three quarters, they had taken only 6, and had made only 1. A 'scorching' 8 for 14 in the fourth left them at 9 for 20 on the game. Given the fact that Utah gave up more free throws than any team in the league last season, 9 points from the line is a complete disaster, and would have been enough by itself to eliminate any chance of winning the game.
There were some bright spots - through the first three quarters only. Everything is dingy viewed through the prism of the fourth.
- Kaman had a 2.0 kind of game through three with 19 points and 8 rebounds in only 31 minutes to that point. Unfortunately, in 8 fourth quarter minutes he went scoreless with 2 rebounds and 3 turnovers. He managed only one shot (and that after an offensive rebound) after the aforementioned 5 for 5 in the third, but he has to take a lot of responsibility for not getting shots up. He turned the ball over on three straight touches in one stretch. Did he lose the flow of the game when he went to the bench? Was he unable to respond to Utah's additional defensive intensity? Whatever the reason, after being the best player on the court for three quarters, he was invisible or worse in the fourth.
- Obviously it's a vital first step to have Davis and Camby both play. But Baron looked out of sorts. He did connect on 3 threes in the game, but he was 2 for 8 on his two points attempts, and he put up several complete bricks.
- And it didn't take long for Mike Taylor to jump Jason Hart on the depth chart. Taylor got his first NBA start in this fourth game, and even when Baron came out to start the second half, it was still Taylor who got the backup minutes. I thought there was a possibility that MDsr would use Hart as the backup, even if he used Taylor as the starter when Baron was out. The logic being that you need a starter to really produce, but you can afford to have a reserve who simply limits mistakes. It's clear that Taylor has more to work with than Hart, but he also will make more mistakes, especially at this point in his career. But with Hart getting a DNP-CD last night, it's clear that Taylor has being given the second string job. He could lose it - he could easily end up in the doghouse. But at least he's got the chance at this point.
That's it for highlights - unless you count the Clippers' first game of the season where the shot over 40% (40.3%, to be pathetically precise). Cat Mobley was bad (4 for 15 and 3 turnovers). Tim Thomas was worse (3 for 9, only 3 rebounds and no defense in 30 minutes). Ricky Davis continues to look awful (minus 17 in 13 minutes on the court).
The schedule doesn't get any easier this week, with the next two games against the undefeated Lakers and the undefeated Rockets. (The Rockets, by the way, have won 19 in a row with Yao in the lineup, though that could change tonight against the Celtics.) This is already the worst start in MDsr's coaching career at 0-4, and it figures to get worse before it gets better.