"Tempo, tempo, tempo," Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "If you could tell me the tempo of each game beforehand, I'll tell you who wins each game."
That's what Mike Dunleavy told Jason Reid of the L.A. Times before the series started.
And the fact is, as anyone can tell from a 130-123 final, the Suns got the tempo they wanted.
But it wasn't a replicable formula. It's not like we can all see how the series is going to play out.
The Clippers were right in this thing. In Phoenix! If L.A. (4-12 three-pointers)had had the hot three-point shooting hand that the Suns had (12-27), it's a different story altogether. The Suns were benfiting from the fact that they were hot from the outside, but somehow managed to outscore the Clippers in the paint, too. Raja Bell made his big shots from three-point land and off the dribble. The Suns had the emotion of homecourt. Those things are not replicable throughout the series.
The Clippers Blog breaks down every one of Phoenix's three-pointers. A couple of things emerge from the analysis: you don't have to play bad defense to give up three-pointers to Phoenix. The fact is just about all the Suns can shoot them, and you can't stay home on everyone on the outside all the time. Barbosa and Nash's penetration can rescramble you something wicked. Great Clippers blog quote: "If Kevin Pelton were documenting this, he'd have to classify this tactically as a 'trap,' but trap implies that there's some measure of captivity...and that's not the case here."
And the mistakes the Clippers did make were small. Consider this from Clippers Blog:
All it takes is one second of bad individual defense and the whole defensive set is shot to hell. It's a high Nash-Diaw S/R that Brand and Ross defend perfectly. Nash can't get Diaw the ball and Ross isn't providing him any room either to penetrate or step back and shoot. With nowhere to go, Nash swings it over to Marion on the perimeter, who is covered by Kaman. Diaw makes a strong cut to the basket, but Brand is with him every step of the way.
But Diaw doesn't have to break free of Brand to be effective and here's why: when Diaw makes his move, Mobley momentarily shifts his balance away from his man, Bell, in the corner and toward the cutting Diaw. The instant Marion picks up on this, he swings the ball over the now-open Bell in the right corner.
Three point. An awful decision by Mobley on one of his worst games of the year. What kills here is that you've got four guys out there playing smashmouth defense - particularly Ross and Brand. But the slightest shift of your weight can cost your team three points against Phoenix - and that's what happened with Mobley here.
The only thing we really learned for certain from this game is that the Suns do not know what to do with Elton Brand. Brand finished 18-22 from the floor.
"Even if he's out there by himself, that's not bad," says Mike D'Antoni.
Don't forget there is a chance Kurt Thomas will be back in this series. If he's really ready to go for a couple of games, that could make things much easier for Phoenix.
But in a way, Brand is the good news for Phoenix from this game, because it's hard to believe he could do the same thing every game. They denied him. They double teamed him. And none of it mattered. He made fallaway jumpers against double teams and did just about everything else he wanted.
Watch the video of the post-game press conferences. Not only will you see Jimmy Goldstein in the front row from time to time, but you'll also see Mike Dunleavy and Elton Brand talk about what went wrong.
Dunleavy: Our objective was to try to hurt them down in the paint... but ultimately it was a wasted effort.
The reporters all ask lots of questions about the minute and a half Elton Brand sat out in the fourth quarter. The Suns went on a 9-2 run, and ended up winning by seven.
Elton Brand does a masterful job of being honest and classy without selling out his teammates who let him down: "We don't box out... They hit a lot of tough shots, some of them were defended... We need to limit our quick shots. That's their game plan. That's their tempo. That's their style...
It's too late in the season to take positives away from losses... Once we watch the film and go over our mistakes, we should improve... We had some defensive lapses, defensive mistakes. We do pride ourselves on defense."
What is Dunleavy's plan? Stop the penetration on the perimeter, which would let everyone stay closer to the shootes. "We didn't do a good job of stopping them on the first dribble," he explains, "and that's where we got beat tonight." It'll be a trick, but if they can figure it out, it will change everything.