In a game that was clearly important in many different ways, playing against a team missing three starters, the Los Angeles Clippers made mistakes both large and small on their way to one of their most frustrating losses of the season. It almost goes without saying that the Spurs are a difficult team to beat, regardless of who they put on the floor -- if the Clippers took them lightly, it was obviously a mistake. I don't really think that was the case however; I just think they weren't nearly as sharp as they needed to be, and they paid the price.
The biggest problem of course is that Chris Paul had his worst shooting game of the season (1-10) while Patty Mills of the Spurs made everyone forget about Tony Parker with 25 points on 9-15 shooting. Mills scored 16 of his 25 in the fourth quarter and more or less single-handedly slammed the door shut on any comeback the Clippers might have tried to mount. It's tempting to simply say "Oh well, what are the odds Patty Mills thoroughly outplays Chris Paul? It's just a flukey game" and move on. But there was more going on here.
One other huge problem in the game was the utter futility of the Clippers small forwards. In 43 minutes on the floor, Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley combined for 10 points and two rebounds; they made just 4-14 from the field and just 1-8 from beyond the three point line. And it wouldn't be so problematic if they weren't wide open so much of the time. Defenses have to put a lot of effort into stopping the likes of Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford and (usually) Chris Paul -- the Clippers desperately need the small forward position to make open shots. Instead, Barnes and Dudley have been missing a LOT of shots, while doing very little in the way of rebounding and defense to compensate. It's been a general problem all season -- it was an incredibly specific problem tonight.
On the scale of smaller problems, the Clippers simply lacked a necessary attention to detail in this game. They were beaten on the glass 48-38; they gave up 12 offensive rebounds to a team that is notoriously disinterested in going after their own misses. DeAndre Jordan had 18 rebounds and Griffin had 12, leaving a grand total of eight rebounds that were collected by the other nine Clippers who appeared in the game in a cumulative 163 minutes. The bench collected a grand total of four rebounds -- which sounds bad enough, but gets worse when you consider that there were times when there were no starters in the game.
The Clippers were also embarrassingly bad at the close of quarters. After taking a six point lead late in the second quarter they allowed the Spurs to close on a 12-1 run over the final 2:10 of the half. Then they had a repeat to end the third quarter; after battling back to tie the game at 74 with under two minutes left in the period, they then gave up an 8-2 Spurs run to see the deficit climb right back up to six. Mills made sure they never got closer than that in the fourth.
And a particular problem that has plagued them all season showed up once again -- they couldn't make three pointers. The Clippers remain undefeated when they make nine or more threes in a game, but they made just 6-21 in this game. With J.J. Redick hurt and neither Dudley nor Barnes currently able to hit anything from deep, Crawford is the only reliable deep threat most nights. This roster was built to spread the floor so that Paul would have driving lanes and Griffin would have room to operate in the post. When the three ball is falling, the Clippers have been unbeaten, if not quite unbeatable. But when it is not, it bogs down all the other aspects of the attack as well.
The Clippers squandered good games from Griffin (35 points on 24 shots, 12 rebounds and four assists), Crawford (25 points on 15 shots) and Jordan (18 rebounds and six blocked shots) -- but pretty much no one else played well.
The win drops the Clippers into
sixth fifth place in the Western Conference. It gives the Spurs a three game lead on LA in the standings. It also gives them the season series and the head-to-head tie breaker.
There are 26 games left and the Clippers will eventually get J.J. Redick back, which won't ameliorate all of their problems, but will certainly make a huge difference in their perimeter shooting. It was clearly a bad game for Paul and many other Clippers, and they will just as clearly play better on most nights. Losses happen all the time, and a few wins tend to help you forget the losses. But the memory of this one will stick with the Clippers a bit longer.