The Los Angeles Clippers had won six of eight games since Chris Paul's injury with the only two losses coming against elite teams on the road on the second game of back-to-backs -- no shame there. Losing to the Bobcats in Charlotte -- an improved team, but still one the Clippers should beat -- brings them back to earth a bit.
The Clippers were due for this kind of game. Here are some telling numbers:
- 6-26 three points shooting (26%);
- 7-9 free throw shooting (a good percentage, but what's with only nine foul shots?);
- 8-26 fourth quarter shooting (31%);
- Blake Griffin, 26 points through three quarters, one point in the fourth quarter.
As bad as all of that seems (and make no mistake, it was bad) the Clippers still found themselves tied on the road with the ball and 40 seconds remaining. With Paul out, the Clippers had been looking to Jamal Crawford to take the shots in the fourth quarter (he was 4-11). Crawford had hit the tying jumper seconds before, and this time he decided to go for a 2-for-1, and went hard to cup looking for the foul on a tough shot attempt. It wasn't necessarily a bad shot -- it's not as if the Clippers had been getting great shots in the quarter -- and it did accomplish the goal of ensuring the Clippers would get another possession.
With the score still tied, Charlotte got the go-ahead basket on a sneaky pretty pass from Ramon Sessions. Or was it just a blindingly lucky air ball? I'm still not sure. At any rate, Jared Dudley and several other Clippers inexplicably found themselves sucked towards Sessions, and Gerald Henderson grabbed the pass/rebound and dunked what would prove to be the game winner. For what it's worth, Sessions got an assist on the play, but that doesn't prove it was actually a pass.
Griffin had absolutely owned Josh McRoberts and Cody Zeller, the primary defenders Charlotte coach Steve Clifford threw at him, all game. He was 11-15 through three quarters, and was simply overpowering his defenders straight into the post. In fact, if I recall correctly, of Griffin's four misses through three quarters, once was a blown dunk on a spin lob, and one was a layup where he made such a good move that he game cleaner than he expected.
With the Clippers down two, Crawford once again drove looking for contact, once again he missed, but this time DeAndre Jordan kept the rebound alive (he had his second consecutive 20 board game) and it fell to Griffin about six feet from the basket on the baseline. I'm not sure if Blake thought he had less time on the clock than he did (there was about 14 seconds left at the time) or if he was worried that the defense would collapse, but he really rushed the shot -- shooting off one foot falling away rather than gathering himself and taking it to the rim hard. It was still a shot I'm sure he thought he'd make, but it came off, and that was about that. For good measure, Griffin missed one last layup on the Clippers last gasp possession, down four with 13 seconds left.
The second unit that Doc Rivers is currently using, with Crawford joined by Dudley, Hedo Turkoglu, and some combination of Redick and Barnes and Morris, Hollins and Mullens, is playing with fire. They were very effective in Detroit on Monday, extending the lead and posting plus/minus scores in the black across the board. But that felt a bit like fool's gold, and sure enough they were who we thought they were tonight.
The problem is that the unit is so completely dependent on Crawford to score. I haven't given up hope that there's a slim chance Turkoglu will find his shot at some point, but he sure doesn't have it now. And no one else can create any sort of offense for themselves. So the offense becomes give the ball to Jamal and stand around.
It's not easy to win basketball games when you can't make perimeter shots. Redick was 1-6 from deep, and I don't remember one that I considered a bad shot; they just didn't go in. I can recall at least three corner threes for the team, wide open, all the time in the world, the shot you love to get, that they just flat missed. So it goes. The Clippers as a team are 18-0 when they make nine or more three pointers in a game -- which leaves them 11-15 in the games where they make eight or fewer. And guess what? Three more makes in this game (probably one or two, but we'll go with three) would certainly have produced a win. I don't happen to subscribe to the philosophy that you should stop taking the three if it's not going in. To me, you have to know what's a good shot and what's a bad shot, and open threes are among the best shots in the NBA. If the team is 3-15 and you get a wide open three, you take it, because that's what the offense was designed to produce. If it doesn't go in, those are the breaks.
The Clippers have Thursday off and then play the surging Bulls in Chicago on Friday. The final three games of this trip are very winnable, but the travel is probably wearing on the team about now as well. A win over the Bulls will go a long way towards helping us forget this loss in a very winnable game. But in the end, it was a loss that was coming.