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Hoop it up all week with SI.com's writers in the NBA Playoffs Blog, a daily journal of NBA commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
12:44 AM ET, 5/17/06

First-half thoughts on Suns/Clips

Posted by Kelly Dwyer
• Corey Maggette starts his second game in a row, putting Quinton Ross on the bench, and the move was a huge minus for the Clippers in the first half. Maggette played 12 minutes, forced several shots, missed six of eight looks, adding six points, five rebounds, two turnovers and a block. Ross played eight minutes, made two of three shots, registered a block, a steal, forced Steve Nash into giving him a look on defense, and generally made his presence felt on both screen and roll defense (he was instrumental in Los Angeles' second-quarter charge).

Heading into Game 5, Ross was averaging about 18 minutes and 8.5 points per game in the second round. He's shooting 57 percent through four and a half games and has turned the ball over twice in about 80 minutes of play. This cat is not a liability, and he's starting to force teams into guarding him on the perimeter, or off the dribble. Credit Mike Dunleavy for showing a willingness to change heading into Game 4, and not sticking Maggette in the doghouse after brutal showings in the second and third game of this series. That said, it's time to let Corey ply his trade as a bruising scorer off the bench, and not as an afterthought in a five-man starting unit.

• Great to see the Suns putting the onus on the estimable Clipper defense. Elton Brand was instrumental in taking away the Phoenix screen-and-roll attack when the two teams slugged it out in Los Angeles, nearly by himself. But Steve Nash and his cutters have given Los Angeles several different looks and movements to try and keep up with -– changing keys, calling out for longer choruses, weird vibraphone solos, the whole schmear. Nash changed tempos, pulled out to try and feign giving up on the play, and then dive back in the paint and try to score himself or find an open man. It's an impossible offense to guard, man, though the Clippers have more than held their own after 18 quarters.

• By my count, the Suns are whipping the Clippers 20-16 in points in the paint, and they have a 13-0 advantage on the fast break. You can't expect Los Angeles to completely shut down Phoenix's transition game (and 13 out of 58 total points isn't too bad), but Mike Dunleavy's forte is denying transition buckets. Yes, the Clips have made their hay on the offensive glass in this series (they're up 13-4 through two quarters tonight), but Los Angeles has to find a happy medium between clearing the boards and getting back to deny easy fast break advantages for the Suns.

• Those offensive rebounds have the Clippers beating the Suns 18-4 on second-chance points, which is a solid mark for a team that's plus-9 on the offensive boards. Still, Los Angeles has allowed Phoenix to keep a lead by sending them to the free-throw line, where the Suns have made 9-for-11. Los Angeles has held their own (13 of 15), but unless the Clippers can stop hacking guys like Leo Barbosa (four of four) or James Jones (who hit a pair, and has two offensive boards), they'll never be able to make up for Phoenix's significant edge in both fast break points (+13) and three-pointers (+6 points).

• If Cat Mobley and Sam Cassell play anything like their old selves in the second half, this is an entirely different game. The two combined for 41 minutes, four of 15 shooting, 11 points, five rebounds, three assists, and three turnovers.

• I'm not at Game 5, so I'm offering up my ideal celebrity sightings: Wilton Felder, Carol Kaye and Judd Hirsch (together, 'natch), Koko Goldstein Jr., Illinois Elohainu, Shannyn Sossamon, Mickey Jupp, Brian Ferry (plus guest), and Horace Silver. Halftime entertainment will be provided by, as usual, the Jesse White Tumblers.
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