The Clippers opened the season against nine consecutive Western Conference opponents with winning records, and lost eight of them. Tonight, they got a 2-6 Eastern Conference team at home... and lost again. Yes, they were missing two starters in Baron Davis and Chris Kaman, but this was a game that they needed to win, and they had every opportunity to win it. They just didn't.
The Clippers took a lead at 102-99 with 29 seconds left, but allowed a quick two, followed by Ryan Gomes missing a free throw, and Rodney Stuckey making two to tie the game. In fact, the Clippers still had a chance to win in regulation, but Eric Gordon (who it must be said played great in the fourth quarter) lost the ball, and the Clippers were lucky to not lose in regulation when Rip Hamilton's long jumper came up short.
The overtime was no contest, due mainly to the fact that the Clippers couldn't make a shot. After Eric Bledsoe made a 15 footer to give the Clippers the lead on their first possession, they missed their next ten shots... including three layups, and four wide open three pointers. In a five minute overtime period, you can't overcome ten straight misses.
This was a strange game. Each of the four quarters and the overtime had a different feel.
The first quarter was all Pistons, owing mainly to a flat performance by the Clippers. The quarter ended with the Pistons ahead 26-17, and the Clippers were lucky to be that close, as they scored the final four points of the quarter.
The second quarter the Clippers looked like the far superior team, and yet the Pistons built their lead from seven to ten. Why? Because they made 5 out of 6 three pointers in the quarter. The Clippers left some shooters open on the perimeter to be sure, and the defense was particularly porous while they were in a zone which they stuck with for much too long, but on the whole the Clippers were getting much better shots. Unfortunately when you're making layups but the other team is making threes, you lose ground. The Clippers had cut the lead down to one at one point, and despite scoring on their next three possession, the lead stretched back out to six, as the Pistons made threes on three out of four trips.
The third quarter was all Clippers, and they erased the ten point deficit. That's the good news. The bad news is that they probably should have done a lot more. On three occasions they ran out on a fast break after a steal... and threw the ball away. For an extended period of the third, it seemed like the only time Detroit scored was after they turned it over to the Clippers... and then got it right back with numbers going the other way. The Clippers also got some truly terrible calls in the third. Early in the period, Rip Hamilton flat grabbed Eric Gordon by the arm, in an obvious and not at all subtle manner, yet somehow none of the three refs managed to notice. That particular non-call was compounded by a technical when Gordon (understandably) mentioned to Violet Palmer that he'd been, you know, grabbed. Then it was Steve Javie's turn to take over, in a classic "Hey everybody, look at me" fashion that Javie is so good at. My favorite was when he halted a Clippers fast break after a Blake Griffin blocked shot, in order to discuss whether Griffin had supported himself on the rim or backboard as he elevated for the block. He hadn't, and after a not-so-brief discussion with the other members of the crew, they determined as much and resumed play. But Javie had accomplished his goal of getting everyone to look at him. Throughout the period, every time it seemed that the Clippers momentum was going to blow the roof off the building, something would happen to bring them back down - either a stupid foul or a whistle.
The fourth quarter was the Eric Gordon and Charlie Villanueva show. Villanueva finished with 30, which ties his high game as a Piston. He shot 9 for 15 from the field, and 5 for 7 from three. He made back to back threes in the final three minutes that were insanely difficult shots. The second one happened right in front of me, and although Villanueva had been beating Ryan Gomes during the game, on this one, Gomes could not have played him tighter.
Gordon, for his part, generated 15 consecutive points down the stretch, scoring 10 himself, and finding Rasual Butler for a three, and Craig Smith under the basket where he got fouled. He finished with 15 in the fourth quarter, and 30 points and 5 assists in the game. But the Pistons switched Tayshaun Prince over to defend him for the final possession of regulation and the overtime, and it's no coincidence that the Clippers went ice cold from that point on.
So in the end it wasn't enough. The Clippers dominated the boards, the points in the paint, and the fast break points. But they turned the ball over too many times, and the Pistons made too many threes.
And the soft part of the schedule starts the way the hard part of the schedule ended: with a loss.