The Clippers returned home for the first time since February 2nd, and for a half, the adrenaline of playing in front of their home crowd was enough to sustain them in the face of the East leading Boston Celtics. But just as they did against the Lakers the night before, the Clippers had a disastrously bad third quarter that destined them for defeat.
One player who had a profound effect on this game was actually 2,000 miles away from Staples Center. Baron Davis took his physical in Cleveland today, but the results of the MRI on his knee were not available in time for the Cavs to sign off on the trade of Davis for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon before game time. Consequently the Clippers played without their new additions, not to mention Eric Gordon who has been out for five weeks with a sprained wrist.
The Clippers got big games from Randy Foye (a season-high 32), Blake Griffin (21) and Chris Kaman (16 on 8 of 12 shooting in his strongest performance since returning from injury just before the All Star break). They also got a huge boost from a boisterous home crowd, and the rush of being home for the first time in weeks carried the team to a fast start. They led by 8 at the end of the first period, and stretched the lead out to 13 at one point. But the Celtics are after all best team in the Eastern Conference, and they do have four All Stars, and they weren't going to go away without a fight. And with the starting backcourt out, and other players forced further up the rotation, the Clippers gave very little support to Foye and Griffin and Kaman. In fact, no one else in a Clippers uniform scored more than 6 points.
The Celtics defense in the third just clamped down on the inexperienced LA team. Nothing came easy - not even entry passes. On most possessions, the Clippers struggled just to get any look at the rim, let alone a good look. Eric Bledsoe, the de facto starter at the point with Baron gone, Williams in street clothes and Foye playing the shooting guard in place of Gordon, simply wilted under the pressure. On more than one occasion, so desperate to run the play that was called, Bledsoe picked up his dribble too early and tried to force the entry pass, only to have one of the aggressive and long-armed Celtics defenders pick it off. The Clippers had 21 turnovers as a team (4 of them on shot clock violations) and Bledsoe had 5 himself.
The other deciding factor in the game was the foul line. The Celtics went to the line 41 times compared to the Clippers 21. In the deciding third quarter, the Celtics were in the bonus after just five minutes, and they scored 11 points from the line in that period alone. For the game, the Clippers shot a higher field goal percentage, made more field goals and more three pointers, and also had more assists. But Boston doubled up LA from the line, 35 to 17, and that was easily the difference in the game.
The good news for the Clippers has to be the performances of Foye and Kaman. Griffin is a given. We know that Gordon will be great when he returns, building on his 24 point per game average on the season. Hopefully Williams can play well as well. If Foye can continue to play well and Kaman returns to his 2010 form, the Clippers suddenly look a lot deeper than they have at any point in the season. If DeAndre Jordan gets to focus on defense and rebounding, if Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu can just be rookies who are learning the game and contributing here and there, rather than being forced to be starters and major contributors night in and night out... then this becomes a decent team.
Hopefully we'll see Williams and Moon in Sacramento on Monday night; Gordon will be back a game or two after that. I'm actually looking forward to finding out what we have here.