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Dallas 106 - Clippers 96 - Clippers, Zone. Zone, Clippers.

Apparently, the Clippers have never seen a zone before, so someone should introduce them.

What a crazy game that was.  The Clippers parlayed their usual terrible end of quarter play in the first half into a 14 point halftime deficit.  On a night when New York and Indiana both won, it seemed like some crucial ground could be covered in the race to the bottom of the NBA standings.  Then a funny thing happened; Dirk Nowitzki had a third quarter meltdown and got himself ejected, and his Dallas teammates proceeded to melt down without him.

Milph never seemed to realize what Dirk was upset about.  He felt like he had been pushed by Drew Gooden on the rebound before the foul they called on Dirk - and it certainly looked like he was.  But refs miss calls all the time, and I'm not sure why you would get yourself tossed over it.  Of course, it didn't look from the TV coverage like Dirk did a whole lot to warrant an ejection, but he must have used some magic words, like schweinhund or dummkopf.

With Dirk missing most of it, the Clippers opened the third quarter on a 25 to 7 run to take a four point lead at 75-71.  The run was marked by aggressive LA defense, and some timely offense from Drew Gooden, who finished the game with season highs of 26 points and 20 rebounds, his first career 20-20 game. 

And just as quickly as the game had turned for the Clippers, it swung back to the Mavs.  Over the next nine minutes of the game, from 3 minutes to go in the third until midway through the fourth, Dallas went on a 27 to 5 run to take an 18 point lead at 98-80.  It was one of the most decisive runs you'd ever want to see.  In the first half of the fourth quarter alone, the Clippers were outscored 22-3, and by all rights it should have been 22 zip, since the only three points the Clippers scored were on a banked in Baron Davis trey (and no, he didn't call 'bank'). 

Just as the Clippers did to the Bucks last week, the Mavs came out in a zone and completely befuddled LA.  The Clippers played right into the hands of the zone, passing the ball around the perimeter, never penetrating inside the zone to make it adjust, and forcing threes late in the shot clock.  The Clippers took a ridiculous twelve three pointers in the fourth quarter alone, making only three (with two of those makes coming after the game was out of reach).  Then again, they only shot 2 for 6 on two pointers, so basically it was just a disaster of a quarter.

In stark contrast to the Sacramento loss in which the bench outplayed the Clipper starters, the LA reserves were pathetic in this one.  As a group, they shot 2 for 10, with more fouls (8) than points (5), and almost as many turnovers (4).  Travis Outlaw was 1 for 7 and managed to register a minus 28 in 19 minutes, Steve Blake was minus 26 in 18 minutes, and DeAndre Jordan was minus 18 in 10 minutes.  This is in a game that finished with a 10 point margin.  On the other hand, every Clipper starter had a positive plus/minus.

In the end, everyone got what they wanted.  Drew Gooden showed Dallas what they're missing, possibly auditioning for his next job; Jason Kidd had a very happy 37th birthday with a season-high 26 points; Dallas tied Denver for second best record in the West and the Clippers tied New York for ninth worst record overall (the unlikely New York win over Denver was huge for both teams). 

So it all ended up where we thought it would, even if it was a little bit of a strange journey getting there.