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San Antonio 106 - Clippers 84

Inexplicably, the Clippers led at halftime, and even managed to withstand a 10-0 start to the second half and still hang with 6 points after three quarters.  I say inexplicably, but I guess some hot shooting from Al Thornton and the unlikely Mardy Collins and Fred Jones goes a long way towards explic-ing it.  That and some disinterested defense and cold shooting from the Spurs.

But as of halftime, the Clippers were outshooting the Spurs by a wide margin, and outrebounding them by a wide margin - yet LA only enjoyed a 1 point lead.  Talk about inexplicable.  How is that even possible?  Ten turnovers had a lot to do with it, but it still seems like either the halftime stats or the halftime score was wrong.  They just didn't make sense.

The second half the game returned to normal.  By the end, it was the Spurs who enjoyed big advantages in both shooting and rebounding.  A big Spurs run to start the fourth quarter broke the game open, and then the Spurs scrubs proceeded to dominate the Clippers scrubs (although in fairness, the Clippers are starting a couple of their scrubs, so when they are forced to play their scrubs it's like playing double scrubs).

There's not a lot to talk about in this game.  The Clippers were outplayed by a far superior team, though they did make a game of it for three quarters. 

This was my first extended look at the matchup zone, and it seemed like a disaster.  Of course, as I mentioned in my preview, the Spurs may be the worst possible team to zone up on (up on whom to zone?  Zhiv - help me here).  They have shooters everywhere you look, they have perhaps the best penetrator in the NBA in Tony Parker, and they can flash Tim Duncan to the high post where he can score or pass.  I actually think the zone is underutilized in the NBA - I think teams can be successful mixing up defenses, with a lot more zone thrown in that any teams currently use.  But there are weaknesses, and the Spurs are the perfect team to exploit them. 

With a matchup, you're kind of hoping that the offense will get rushed into a bad decision.  You try to be in the passing lanes, and get deflections, and disrupt the offense.  A great example was Manu's turnover in the second quarter.  He caught the ball on the baseline, and he was wide open and should have shot the ball.  But he was surprised to be so open, and thought Duncan was open in the lane as well, and instead of shooting a wide open 12 footer he threw a pass that got stolen.

But in the NBA, that's the exception, not the rule.  It's really, really hard to be effective in a defense that's handing cutters off as the move around the court.  NBA players do not need a lot of space to make shots, and there's going to be some space against a zone.  The offense floods one side of the court, there are 2 defenders guarding 3 shooters - somebody is open.  Again, I'm intrigued by the matchup, and think it could be effective in small doses.  But all NBA teams are going to exploit it eventually, and the Spurs will do so better than most.

One wonders why MDsr is using so much zone lately.  Certainly it can help keep people out of foul trouble, which is obviously important with the team so shorthanded.  And even though they were up to a luxurious ten healthy bodies for this game, the simple fact of the matter is that if Gordon, Thornton or Camby gets into foul trouble, it's a disaster for the current team.  I think there are some other reasons as well.  It lets Camby stay near the basket, to block shots and rebound, rather than defending the likes of Matt Bonner at the three point line.  It also lets the team play a less traditional group on the floor.  This was more important when Hart and Jones were unavailable, since Collins and Gordon were the only guards.  When one of them went to the bench for a brief rest, zone was pretty much the only option since neither Steve Novak nor Al Thornton is going to have much success defending the shooting guard.

It all makes me wonder if he's not contemplating using the zone when he gets everyone healthy as a way to get a different non-traditional group - Camby, Kaman and Randolph - on the floor together.  Could they play at least a few minutes of 1-2-2, with Kaman and Camby low, and Randolph taking a wing?  Zach would have the toughest assignment there, and would have to cover a lot of ground.  But at some level it seems strange to put this much effort into the matchup zone just as a stopgap defense for a makeshift roster.  Does it figure into the Clippers longer term plans?  I'm a big believer in getting your best players on the floor, regardless of position.  So I'm in favor of finding a way to play Camby, Kaman and Randolph together when they're healthy.  Just a thought.

Camby's streak of 21 consecutive games of double digit rebounds was snapped tonight.  Fortunately, he did get some extra rest, playing only 30 minutes.  Tim Duncan was held to single digit scoring for the first time this season, for what that's worth.  The teams combined to shoot a mere 20 free throws; the game was over pretty fast.

On to New Orleans tomorrow night.  (Damn, I still have to write a preview!)  I'm sure the Clippers will be happy when this trip is over, if only because it represents some hope of reenforcements.  I'm not saying that Randolph and Baron and Kaman are all going to suit up Sunday against the Suns - I don't know, but I doubt that's the case.  But as long as they're on the road and those guys are in LA, they KNOW they're facing tough teams shorthanded.  It's got to be daunting.