Lakers 87 - Clippers 86 - It's a Process

For the second game in a row, the Clippers gave away a fourth quarter lead with Eric Gordon on the bench, and then Gordon came back into the game and personally grabbed the lead back. EJ has been strangely ineffective in the first half all season, and lately in particularly. I'd love for him to be a force every minute on the floor - I'm greedy that way. BUT, if he's going to pick one quarter to be at his best, I'll take the fourth. The Clippers have never had a clutch fourth quarter scorer, but EJ is trying to become that guy. Unfortunately, the Lakers are not the Kings, and Gordon is still only 21 years old. He's trying to become that guy, but tonight, he wasn't. He did some very, very good things - when he entered the game, he scored five straight to turn a two point deficit into a three point lead, and later he made a three to stretch the lead back to six. He also had a couple of crucial defensive plays. And then, he did some very, very bad things. In three consecutive possessions in the final 90 seconds, he missed a free throw, and turned the ball over twice, and the Lakers retook the lead. He almost atoned for those mistakes by setting up DeAndre Jordan for the go ahead dunk with 15 seconds left. But hey, this is Lakers-Clippers - if the Lakers have a final possession to win the game, of course they're going to. I can't decide if it's better or worse that it was Derek Fisher instead of Kobe Bryant with the game-winner.

It's pretty hard to get too down on Eric Gordon in this game though. If they hadn't had Gordon in the fourth, they would have lost by double digits. The Clippers only scored 15 points in the quarter - Gordon scored nine himself, and also had two assists. The Clippers did not sink a fourth quarter basket without Gordon involved. It must also be said that the attention he was getting left some other players open. Ryan Gomes missed two wide open looks down the stretch. Eric Bledsoe had lots of room, but didn't even think about shooting.

It's a process. First you have to play well enough to win - then you have to actually win. The Clippers are making great progress on the first goal; they are pretty much nowhere on the second. But they'll get there. The defense has gotten much better recently (it couldn't have gotten much worse of course). Gordon is making things happen down the stretch (though not all of them good). As much as this loss stings, remember that it doesn't make much of a difference this season. If it is a stepping stone in the team's education, toward learning how to close out games, then it serves a purpose. A painful, painful purpose. Blake Griffin (who had his tenth straight double double with 16 points and 11 rebounds despite a tough first half) summed this up pretty well after the game:

You learm from every game. The important thing is taking what you learned and putting it to good use. The little mistakes can kill you in this game."

Indeed.

Oh, and don't get me started on the fact that the Clippers suffered their third 70 footer of the season, or that the Clippers got a delay of game technical while they were shooting free throws in the fourth (I pretty much missed what happened there). Man, you go to the line for two free throws, and when all is said and done, you've lost a point of your lead. How often does THAT happen?

I'm going to head back to Long Beach, and get this admittedly disjointed recap posted now. The Clippers have two days off before Saturday's game against Memphis, so we'll have plenty of time to think about the loss, and there are lots of things to talk about. Below are some standalone bullets I was writing during the game itself.

  • I'm a little torn on the play in the third quarter where Bledsoe kept the ball on a 3 on zero fast break rather than give it up to Blake. Every extra pass is a chance to make a mistake, and with Bledsoe you definitely want him to make the easy play. The easy play in that case was for him to keep it himself, and doing so was infinitely superior to some of the plays we've seen him make this season, going for the sensational lob and turning the ball over in crucial situations. On the other hand, it's the point guard's job to get other's involved, and a Blake Griffin breakaway would have been a win-win - assist for Bled, dunk for Griffin, gets the crowd into it. All things considered, and given the specific history of bad turnovers on easy fast breaks, I actually have no problem with Bledsoe keepinog that ball himself.
  • I wonder if there is a stat for shooting percentage on 70 footers? The Clippers must have the worst 70 footer defense in the league. You know, it's easy to feel snake bit, and sometimes there's not really anything different happening to your team than to any other team. Every team gets bad bounces sometimes, bad calls, unlucky breaks. But surely there's not another team in the league that has had THREE 70 foot buzzer beaters fall against them this season. Each one was huge, as well, if only from a momentum standpoint. The Clippers on the other hand haven't made a single one. Ryan Gomes hit one after the buzzer last week.
  • Pau Gasol is 30 and nursing a bad hamstring. He's had two bad games this season, this being one of them, last week at Houston being the other. His numbers were eerily similar in each. And in each case, the Lakers were playing the second game of a back to back. The Lakers lost both in Houston and should have lost this one. So the Lakers should be happy that the NBA schedule makers gave them the fewest back to backs in the league this season.

Bizarre Whistle of the Game: Without having yet rewatched the delay of game call on Blake's free throws in the fourth quarter, I'm going to have to go with that. I mean, it's certainly bizarre in the sense of rarity. I've been watching basketball a LONG time, and I don't think I've ever seen a delay of game called on the team shooting free throws. Ever. At least it wasn't a big play. I mean, one point in the fourth quarter of a game the Lakers won by one point. No big deal.  

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