The Clippers were well-positioned to give new head coach Kim Hughes his first win of the season heading into the fourth quarter against the red-hot Utah Jazz. They were ahead by four and playing a pretty solid game on both ends of the floor. They were +8 on rebounding, and had committed relatively few turnovers (eleven through the first three quarters). In the fourth quarter, all the things they had been doing right they did wrong, and in addition to that, they fell victim to some unlikely Jazz heroes as well. The Jazz ended up winning the fourth 29-15, and the game 109-99. It was Utah's ninth straight win and the Clippers' third straight loss, and it dropped Hughes to 0-2 as the head guy.
Among the more bizarre happenings of the fourth quarter:
- Ronnie Price, who was 8 for 27 shooting three pointers coming into the game, made two consecutive long threes to give the Jazz their first leads since the first half. Both shots came deep in the shot clock after the Clippers had played solid defense for the possession, and neither shot was easy.
- Price and Wes Matthews were Utah's leading scorers in the quarter, scoring 8 points a piece, outscoring the Clippers all by themselves. They made six out of seven shots in the quarter. And if you're saying to yourself "Price and Matthews? Who?" you're not alone.
So what does that all add up to? Was Utah simply too much for the Clippers in the fourth quarter? Hardly. You can't really credit Utah's defense for holding the Clippers to 50% from the line (though Sloan does pride himself on his teams' FT defense over the years), nor for forcing Baron to miss a layup. As for the rebounding, do you single out Utah for wanting the ball more, or the Clippers for not wanting it enough? Because let's face facts, rebounding is about desire. And that right there is more than enough to account for the final margin of victory.
For several seasons when the Clippers have lost focus in the fourth quarter, the tendency has been to blame the coach. Well, to paraphrase Richard Nixon, we don't have MDsr to kick around anymore. Great players are at their best when the game is on the line. But there are few on the Clippers team that one would describe as clutch.