The Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Phoenix Suns yesterday in what we can only hope will be the Clippers worst performance of the season. The Suns shot just 35%, their second worst shooting performance, and still won. Of course, the Clippers shot only 37%, but shooting was only the start of the Clippers problems last night.
After the first couple of weeks of the season, the Clippers have been one of the best rebounding teams in the league. Overall, their rebounding differential of +2.8 is third best in the NBA. The Suns on the other hand are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, with a differential of -2.5, 25th in the NBA. So in theory, the Clippers should destroy the Suns on the boards, as they have done to most of their opponents for the last month.
Instead, the Suns outrebounded the Clippers 52-46. And if you're looking for one scapegoat in this particular problem, look no further than Blake Griffin. Griffin, averaging 11 rebounds per game, had just 7. Meanwhile, his counterpart at power forward, Channing Frye, averaging 6 rebounds per game, grabbed 14, two shy of his career high. So based on their averages, Griffin should be outrebounding Frye by 5; in this game, Frye outrebounded Griffin by 7. That's a 12 rebound swing, the difference between the Clippers being minus 6 in rebounds to plus 6 in rebounds.
And then there is the question of free throws. The Suns went to the line 29 times, compared to 9 free throws for the Clippers, one more than their season low. On the season, the Suns are terrible at getting to the line, 28th in the NBA, while the Clippers are above average, 11th in the NBA.
In some circumstances I might be inclined to cry foul, to say the referees favored the home team in the calls over the course of the game. But this discrepancy, combined with the rebounding deficit and the general lethargy of the team, seems much more readily explained by a Clippers team playing far too passively. For whatever reason, the Clippers allowed the Suns to be the aggressor in this game.
In a nutshell, the Clippers lost to a team that generally relies on the brilliance of their point guard (Steve Nash tied a season high with 7 turnovers and had more turnovers than points or assists) and perimeter shooting (the Suns shot 35%). In the end, the Suns were able to win by outrebounding the Clippers and getting to the line, despite the fact that Phoenix is near the bottom of the league in both of those disciplines. There's no good explanation for how the Suns should have won this game, and yet they did.
If this is an aberration, a one time occurrence, then it's no big deal. The Clippers lost a game they should have won -- it happens. However, it's disconcerting to think that this might be part of a trend.
The fact that the Clippers were playing the second game of a back to back might explain some of their sluggishness -- but it certainly doesn't bode well. If the Clippers are going to play this badly on the second game of back to backs, they have some real issues, given that they have seven more 'no rest' games in the month of March alone. You simply can't afford, in this compressed season, to write off so many games.
Consider this also. I mentioned that 9 free throws was one off the Clippers season low. The low point came the night before in Sacramento, when they went to the line 8 times. LA was also outrebounded in Sacramento, the first time they had been outrebounded since Feb. 2. So in two games on this trip, the Clippers have been outrebounded twice after a streak of a dozen games where they had won the rebounding battle, while getting to the line a grand total of 17 times -- 7 fewer free throws than they average per one game. Those are some very disturbing trends on this trip.
With four games left on the road trip, against primarily more formidable opponents, the Clippers could be in serious trouble if they don't figure out some of these issues quickly.