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Friday, October 06, 2006

L.A. Clippers Defeat BC Khimki, 98-91

The L.A. Clippers forced 24 turnovers, built a 15 point fourth quarter lead and survived a late run to post a 98-91 victory over BC Khimki. The game was played in Moscow and telecast by NBA TV, with Rick Kamla and Bill Raftery providing commentary; they were not shown on-air and sound like they are broadcasting from a closet instead of the arena but some of Raftery's comments suggest that they are actually on site.* Sam Cassell is not injured but did not play; Shaun Livingston, his replacement, led the Clippers with 19 points, while Chris Kaman and Corey Maggette added 17 each. Melvin Booker, who played briefly in the NBA a decade ago, led Khimki with 19 points.

The Clippers used a 14-4 first quarter run to take a 21-11 lead and were ahead 30-23 at the end of the quarter. During the second quarter, Raftery and Kamla talked a little bit about the 76ers' loss to FC Barcelona. Raftery pointed out that the international teams have already started their seasons while the NBA teams are still in the early stages of their training camps. I know that some people look back on how the U.S. used to dominate international competition and say that this is just an excuse but if that is the case then why do NBA teams have training camps for a month? Why does Tiger Woods practice? He's the best player, so can't he just show up and win? The reason that U.S. teams used to dominate FIBA teams is that most of the FIBA teams were not very good. The U.S. did not have to do a lot of special preparation to play against those teams or adjust to the FIBA rules because the talent/skill disparity was so tremendous. Eventually, the talent level and skill development of the FIBA teams caught up with the U.S. collegians and then the U.S. started sending professional players to FIBA events. Now, FIBA teams are able to compete with--and even beat--U.S. professional teams. This is a tribute both to how well U.S. coaches and teams have served as ambassadors of the game over the years and how hard the coaches and players in other countries have worked on their games.

I think that the emergence of good players and teams from around the world also refutes a certain mythology that has arisen around basketball. We have heard the cliche "white men can't jump" and the unstated belief behind that phrase is that white men can't play, either. Larry Bird stated this overtly a few years ago in an interview when he commented that he felt insulted during his career if a white player was assigned to guard him. What we are seeing in FIBA play is that various nationalities and ethnicities are able to play basketball at a high level; the key factor is not race but preparation and practice. I do not disagree with those who suggest that American players and teams should rededicate themselves to the fundamentals of the game but I believe that we are not witnessing a decline in U.S. play as much as a tremendous increase in the playing level of FIBA teams over the past 15 years.

Back to the game in question, the Clippers led 51-42 at halftime. Kaman had 10 points, while Booker paced Khimki with 12. The Clippers hurt themselves with poor free throw shooting (12-22), while Khimki made the most of their limited free throw opportunities (10-13). Neither team shot well from the three point line (1-5 for the Clippers, 4-18 for Khimki).

The Clippers used a 7-2 run to take a 58-44 third quarter lead but Khimki countered with a 6-0 run to pull within 58-50. Livingston then scored on a drive and the Clippers pulled away to lead 74-61 at the end of the quarter. Quinton Ross opened the fourth quarter with a jumper to push the Clippers' advantage to 76-61 and they maintained a double figure lead for most of the quarter. Khimki made a final run in the last three minutes and got within 96-91 with 11 seconds left but that proved to be too little too late.

*--Never mind. The Phoenix Suns-Lottomatica Roma game just began in Italy and Kamla and Raftery are doing that game, too. So, unless they have access to some Star Trek technology, I doubt that they are either in Rome or Moscow.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:11 PM

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