March 12, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers small forward Caron Butler (5) and Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett (5) battle for the ball during the first quarter of the game at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
In many ways, it's shocking that the Los Angeles Clippers were in this game at all. For the game, LA shot 37% from the field compared to 49% for the Boston Celtics. You just don't win games with that sort of disparity in the most fundamental part of the competition, making shots. Yet the Clippers led by 4 with a little over 4 minutes to go, and even after giving up a 13-2 run over the next 2 minutes, still managed to get within three again with a minute left. But Boston closed on a 7-1 run to win 94-85. Do the Clippers deserve some credit for hanging close when they played so poorly? Of course not. Here's an idea -- stop playing so poorly. The Clippers are in a deep, blue, funk.
The energy was not quite the problem that it had been over the last week or so, but the Clippers simply could not make shots. In general, the Clippers are not going to beat good teams, or really any teams, when Chris Paul struggles, and he really struggled in this one. He missed his first five shots (including a couple of layups) and finished 3 for 12 from the field. He had almost as many turnovers (4) as assists (5) which is just not him. There's little question that Rajon Rondo had something to do with Paul's sub-par night -- but most of it was on Chris. He just wasn't sharp -- at all.
A huge problem for the Clippers tonight (and this seems like a relatively new one, as if they need more problems right now) was that they opened almost every quarter completely dead. At the start of the game, it was 6-0 Boston before the Clippers got on the board. In the third, it was a 13-2 Boston at the start. In the fourth, the Celtics opened 9-0. It's almost as if the Boston team had a plan at the beginning of quarters which they executed, while the Clippers were completely lost. Imagine that.
The Clippers stayed in the game essentially on the strength of two big runs. In the second quarter, the went on a 12-0 run that featured a Blake Griffin reverse dunk off a lob and some actually transition basketball and turned a 3 point deficit into a 9 point lead. I actually found myself thinking "Finally, Lob City is back" because I had been wondering when the Clippers were going to start playing with energy and freedom again. LA took that 9 point lead into half time -- and came back out of the intermission the same, confused, timid, lethargic team we've been seeing the last few weeks.
In the fourth quarter, they used a 17-3 run to take that four point lead I mentioned. That run was less about transition basketball, and more about getting defensive stops. But unfortunately, for the fourth time in their last four losses, it wasn't enough to overcome a double digit deficit in the fourth quarter, because the Clippers couldn't hang on once they regained the lead.
With the team struggling, coach Vinny Del Negro seems to be flailing a bit with his lineups. Tonight he went with Paul, Mo Williams, Caron Butler, Bobby Simmons and Griffin for the final 9 minutes. Now it's hard to argue with having Paul and Griffin in there, even with Paul struggling, and indeed he did play better in the fourth, scoring 10 of his 14 points. Williams needed to be in, as he was the Clippers only perimeter player capable of hitting shot and even he was 1 for 8 from deep. But Caron Butler has been shooting terribly in recent weeks, and was 3 for 13 tonight. Simmons on the other hand was in the D-League a couple weeks ago, but I guess VDN felt like he was doing the best job of anyone defending Paul Pierce.
I'm not sure why you wouldn't go ahead and put DeAndre Jordan in the game down the stretch, perhaps for Butler. With Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Wilcox out, the Celtics only played three players over 6'7" -- and one of those (Brandon Bass) had fouled out while another (Greg Stiemsma) had shown little indication that he'd be able to handle crunch time. But by going small and staying small, Del Negro failed to press his size advantage and Boston was able to close the game with Garnett surrounded by a group of guards and small forwards.
The irony is that while the Clippers had the size advantage in the big picture, down in the trenches the size matchups all went Boston's way. Ray Allen was way too big for Mo Williams and scored the first six points of the fourth quarter based on that advantage. The Celtics are also the masters at getting teams to switch into unfavorable matchups. So whether it was Garnett posting Bobby Simmons on the switch, or Pierce taking advantage of a small guard like Paul or Williams, it was always Boston taking advantage of size mismatches.
The Clippers have now lost four of five. They trail the Lakers by a game and a half, and are frankly lucky that teams like Dallas and Houston have also been slumping, or they'd be dropping towards the bottom of the playoff picture. As it is, they've already fallen to fifth in the West, which would put them on the road to begin the playoffs.
Then again, the lost 5 of their last 7 home games, so it's as if home court advantage is an advantage.