The Clippers looked great for about 6 minutes in this game. They took an 18-10 lead by pounding the Suns on the boards and punishing them inside, with Baron Davis on Steve Nash and Chris Kaman on whomever. The Suns called timeout at 5:49 of the first quarter... and that was that. The first eighth of the game belonged to the Clippers, but the final seven-eighths was all Phoenix. The Suns came out of their timeout and scored ten straight points to take the lead, and never trailed again.
The Clippers defense throughout the game was indescribably bad. The Suns are a very good offensive team, and they're going to exploit any defensive mistakes. But against almost any team there are two things you really don't want to allow: layups and open threes. Layups and open threes are pretty much all the Suns took in this game. Add in a 27 to 17 advantage in free throws, and you've got the holy trinity of easy points. No wonder the Suns were shooting a ridiculous 60% through three quarters (their second string brought down their overall percentage to a merely scorching 53.7% in the meaningless fourth quarter). The game got so out of hand that the Suns ended up outrebounding the Clippers, after the Clippers had grabbed 14 of the first 15 available rebounds in the game.
So here are the excuses. The Suns are really good, and when they get hot they can dissect the best defense. The Clippers are at the tail end of a six game road trip and they are tired. Marcus Camby is hurting and sat out the second half. Al Thornton is also hurting and was questionable for this game going in. Blake Griffin is injured.
There, that about covers it.
That's a load of crap. At some point, this team is going to have to play well enough to beat a decent team, or if not, then admit that they are not any good. The way they played defense on this trip, I'm leaning towards the latter.
It's not really worth going into much detail. The pick and roll defense was particularly porous, and it wasn't just against Nash. Stoudemire got at least two dunks running pick and roll with Jason Richardson - not usually none for his brilliant passing. Jared Dudley was particularly effective, scoring 18 points on 9 shots and making 4 of 5 (wide open) threes.
But one big problem for the Clippers is that Eric Gordon has struggled most of this trip. His second field goal of this game gave the Clippers a 16-8 lead at 7:10 of the first - he then proceeded to miss nine straight, and the next time he made a shot, about midway through the third, Phoenix had a 22 point lead and the game was essentially over. I am the first to sing Gordon's praises, and in particularly I often commend him on his efficiency. But in the Clippers last 5 losses, including all the losses on this trip, he has shot:
- 4 for 15 versus Phoenix;
- 6 for 17 versus Houston;
- 3 for 9 versus San Antonio;
- 2 for 8 versus New York;
- 4 for 12 versus San Antonio.
Earlier in the season we saw how the Clippers struggled when Gordon was injured and on the sidelines. Now we see how they struggle when he's playing, but not playing well.
Today was Gordon's 21st birthday, and it was probably a pretty bad one. He's still very young, and will continue to improve. He's got a world of talent and he's going to be a major star in the NBA - eventually. But the Clippers can't wait for eventually if they want to stay relevant this season. Gordon has got to play well for them to have a chance.
Oh, and the team is going to have to play some defense.
They've lost three straight, with games looming against two good teams. The latest on Griffin's return has him likely missing half the season, around 40 or 41 games. With the record standing at 12 and 17, and only one win against a team with a winning record, they project to at best 17 and 24 at the season midpoint - and that's being pretty generous. It's a lot to ask of a rookie, to dig them out of a 7 game below .500 hole in his first half an NBA season.