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Dallas Mavericks 96 Los Angeles Clippers 92. Clippers Come Up Short in Rematch of Western Conference Powers

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In spite of not playing particularly well, the Clippers almost stole this game from the Mavericks. Here is the box score for anyone who missed it. Full recap after the jump.

When the Clippers and Mavericks last played at Staples Center, they were was without Chris Paul. Despite not having their superstar, the Clippers were in control for much of the game, and managed to secure a victory behind the late game heroics of Chauncey Billups. This time around, with Paul back and without Billups, there would be a different dynamic on the floor, and the Mavericks had a game plan that was simple, take away Chris Paul and make the rest of the team beat you. Rick Carlisle put Shawn Marion on Chris Paul from the outset and clearly they were determined to collapse on him in the key and take away his penetration. This resulted in very few free throws and easy buckets in the early going for the entire Clipper roster, and a quiet offensive game for CP3.

The side effect of this defensive strategy is that you are going to give up some looks from outside, and Caron Butler took full advantage, knocking down 5 3's tonight. Caron Butler's shooting out of half court sets and Mo WIlliams ability to knock down 3's in transition kept the Clippers in the game in the first half. That said, it's not a terrible strategy against this Clippers team. Blake Griffin had a nice first half with 12 points, but by double teaming Chris Paul it becomes difficult for Blake to get the easy points that Paul creates for him. Of course taking away Chris Paul isn't exactly an easy thing to do. Dallas is by no means the only team that has tried to slow down Chris Paul this season. It was a solid individual effort by Marion and a terrific team effort on the part of the Mavs. They brought a double team at the top of the key and the Clippers were largely unable to figure it out for long stretches. This is where Vinny Del Negro needs to earn his paycheck. Until the last few minutes of the game, it never seemed that the Clippers knew what they wanted to do against this defensive look, and never did anything to force Dallas to change. The Clippers found a way to stay in the game, capitalizing on offense when Marion was out, and playing some nice defense to close out the third quarter. The Clippers would enter the final period with a two point lead and the ball but were unable to capitalize on the momentum.

In spite of turnovers, missed free throws, defensive breakdowns, and a solid fourth quarter by Dirk Nowitzki, the Clippers were not out of this game until the very end. Down 6, with under two minutes to go, the Clippers beat the high double team that had flustered them all game by flashing Kenyon Martin to the free throw line, who then hit a slashing Blake Griffin for the dunk and a foul, and Blake would convert the free throw. After a stop on the other end, Paul would find Kenyon Martin for a quick layup cutting the lead to one. Dirk would push the lead to three with a 15 footer towards the end of the shot clock. On the ensuing possession, Paul found Kenyon Martin again cutting to the rim, but the play resulted in a crucial no call, with Dirk getting away with a pretty obvious foul. The Clippers then had to foul, and Dirk pushed the lead to 5. Even then, the Clippers found a way to hang around.

A three pointer by Paul cut the lead to two. After a Dallas time out, the Clippers stole the inbound pass. Rather than calling a timeout to diagram a play, the Clips paused the ball forward and Paul found Caron Butler for a terrific look at a three, which somehow rimmed out. Whether or not the Clippers should have called a time out is a question of basketball philosophy. The purpose of calling the timeout is to get a good look. Clearly, that wasn't necessary, as they were not going to get a better look than they got. You could certainly argue that they could have gone for two and played for overtime, but there's no guarantee that they would have gotten an easy look out of an inbounds play in the half court against that Dallas Defense anyway.

Now I am not one to blame the refs for losses. I think Dallas deserved to win this game, but its hard to ignore a couple of big plays down the stretch. First, Kenyon Martin got whistled for a foul on a three point attempt by Dirk Nowitzki. Very questionable call in my opinion, and very likely a makeup call for Superstar Dirk, who complained on a previous possession that Reggie Evans had hit him on the elbow on a shot he made. On top of that, Kenyon Martin does not get a whistle on a made shot under two minutes, and then doens't get a whistle on a blatant foul by Dirk under two minutes. Again, Dallas outplayed the Clippers, and even with the officiating this the Clips had a chance to win this game, but those three plays are a little difficult to ignore when the result was as close at it was.

Some thoughts:.
Blake Griffin Free Throws:

It seemed Blake Griffin had turned the corner on his free throw shooting in the last few games. There was a big time regression tonight, with Blake going 2 for 9 (though he did make his last 2). When Blake was struggling at the beginning of the season, I felt it was because he was not shooting in one fluid motion. He would bend his kneed, bring the ball above his head, then stop his motion, and shoot entirely with his arms. This inevitably leads to streaky shooting. By adding the dribble to his shot in the last few games, he seemed to reduce that pause, and he was in a little bit more of a rhythm when he released. Tonight he was not following through on his shot, causing him to shoot his free throws short. He will fix that too, and the fact that he stepped up and made two free throws at the end is a great sign of his own confidence. Blake will be a good free throw shooter, its just a matter of time and practice.

Dallas bench:

The Dallas bench is strong, with Terry, Odom, and

It was a tough loss but overall the road trip has been a success, particularly when considering the loss of Chauncey Billups. Hopefully, they will bounce back against the Wizards Wednesday Night.