Suns hope to contain Clippers' big men
LOS ANGELES -- Though formal practice was over, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman weren't finished, receiving passes from Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Kim Hughes, taking dozens of shots from close range and making most of them.
If Thursday's scene sounds familiar, it should. That was pretty much the story a night earlier in Phoenix -- the Los Angeles big men making shot after shot in a 122-97 victory over the Suns to even the Western Conference semifinal series 1-1.
No defense didn't hinder the Clippers much more than the Suns' defense did.
"That's what happens when they go small," Kaman said. "They get hurt in the post. Inside, they don't [match up]. They know that. They want us to match up with them. You've got two 3's [small forwards] guarding a 4 [power forward] and a 5 [center]."
It didn't matter in the opener of the Western Conference semifinals, when the Suns ran the Clippers ragged in winning a 130-123 decision.
Game 2 was another story, and at least some of the inside success of Brand and Kaman could be attributed to the fine outside shooting of guards Cuttino Mobley (nine of 16) and Sam Cassell (eight of 12).
Oh, and there was the staggering rebounding differential: Clippers 57, Suns 26.
"It's the same always," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said of his team's size disadvantage. "It's going to come down to, can we run so hard and make the extra effort, and tip balls out? We didn't have that extra pop in our step, and we're not going to win if we don't.
"There will be times when this will happen. We can't get down on it. We can't start worrying about it. These guys are good. They're deep and they're big. We're going to have to fight them. We've just got to summon up the juices come next game and go at it. "
The next game will be played Friday night at Staples Center, where the Clippers went 27-14 during the regular season and 3-0 against Denver in the first round of the playoffs.
Brand, who shot 18 of 22 for 40 points in Game 1, went 10 of 16 for 27 points in Game 2. Kaman was six of eight for 14 points, and also had 16 rebounds.
"When we're hitting, we take pressure of EB, we take pressure off Chris," Mobley said of the Clippers' perimeter shooters.
"EB is a monster down there. Kaman is a monster," Clippers swing man Corey Maggette said.
So what can the Suns do in Game 3?
"Hopefully, we can get this series longer and longer to where hopefully we can run their legs out from under them," two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash said.
"We'll adjust a little bit and try to do a better job in certain situations," D'Antoni said. "We've got to take something away."
And, no question, they'd better improve on the boards.
"I'm sure that's going to be their emphasis -- to box out," Brand said. "When we're hitting on all cylinders like that, it's tough to stop us. It's tough to guard us."
The Clippers wrestled homecourt advantage away from the Suns by splitting in Phoenix, but Los Angeles coach Mike Dunleavy isn't impressed.
"Home-court is out the window as far as I'm concerned," he said. "The way they stroke it, they can win anywhere. I'm sure they'll do certain things [in Game 3] -- a lot of it is more about execution. We know what each other can do."
Before the best-of-seven series began, both sides pointed to tempo as the key. Dunleavy indicated Thursday he didn't have a problem with his team doing some running "as long as it results in layups or free throws."
Dunleavy said the pressure will be on his team Friday night.
"It's always on the home team," he said. We've got to hold home court. I expect us to come out strong. If we're successful, that will be us on notice for Game 4."
D'Antoni agreed, saying: "You can make a case that they have to win these games [in Los Angeles], so there's more pressure on them than us."
Mobley scored 23 points after being held to three by Raja Bell in Game 1.
"I've got a tough defender on me," Mobley said. "He's a tough defender who uses his brain. He's making his mark, he's playing against tough guys. He's a hard worker. I'm giving him props because he's been like that since he came into the league."
Bell was the center of controversy last week, when he committed a flagrant foul against Lakers star Kobe Bryant and was suspended for a game.
While Mobley gave Bell props, Dunleavy didn't.
When a reporter said something to the Clippers' coach about Bell being a hard-nosed defender and a contributor at the other end of the court as well, Dunleavy replied: "I don't know about hard-nosed. He flops a lot. He goes down pretty easy. But he can shoot the ball."
Regarding Bell in the Suns-Lakers series, Dunleavy said: "I thought he went down pretty easy."