The Los Angeles Clippers didn't deserve to win their game in Denver tonight versus the Nuggets. Nor did they really deserve to lose it. But lose it they did, on a three point buzzer beater by former Clipper Randy Foye.
They didn't deserve to win because they didn't protect their defensive glass, and were generally pummeled on the boards, being outrebounded 52-37 and giving up 17 offensive rebounds to the Nuggets. They also had a very difficult time playing defense without fouling, and the Nuggets went to the line 44 times, a season high for a Clipper opponent.
They didn't deserve to lose because they were the better team, and because a decent number of those Denver free throw attempts -- 18 of which came in the fourth quarter when Denver had more or less a parade to the line -- were pretty dubious. And the most dubious calls tended to originate with Doc Rivers' old pal, Marc Davis. Denver scored 15 of 17 points prior to Foye's game winner from the line. They took 16 free throws in the final 5:22 of the game. Ouch. That'll stick in your craw.
But the worst call of the game didn't come in the fourth quarter -- it came with 1:38 remaining in the second and the Clippers up nine. Foye went to the basket, Blake Griffin stepped in to take a charge, there was no call, the Clippers got the rebound and threw an outlet pass and appeared to have numbers heading out on the fast break -- and then Davis' whistle sounded for a blocking foul on Griffin. There are late whistles (Davis' call against DeAndre Jordan for fouling Wilson Chandler in the fourth comes to mind) and then there are late whistles, and then there are "I'm confused, what could you possibly be calling on an outlet pass, wait what, you're talking about the last play?" late whistles. The tardiness of the call was really only matched by the incorrectness of it, since Griffin was clearly set, clearly stationary, and clearly out of the restricted area. Foye's two free throws started a 9-0 Denver run (with Griffin on the bench with three fouls) and a game the Clippers had just seconds before had firmly in hand was nip and tuck the rest of the way.
(The worst non-call of the game actually came very early, when an inadvertent whistle from Eric Lewis wiped away a wide open Griffin layup. It's a good thing for the Clippers those two points that they lost for no reason at all didn't end up being important. Oh, wait.)
Still, it never should have been that way. They should have rotated better against Denver's bigs; neither Kenneth Faried nor J.J. Hickson are particularly known as playmakers, but Griffin and Jordan made them look like All Stars in the first half, allowing them to pick them apart below the foul line with dunk after dunk. They should have taken better care of the ball, as terrible passes at the end of the third quarter cost them a chance to take a lead into the break and instead handed a layup to the Nuggets at the buzzer. And they certainly should have done better on the defensive glass, where Denver's 17 offensive boards were not only the difference in the game, but also a part of a very disturbing trend for this team.
In another unfortunate trend, the Clippers once again struggled from the perimeter in a loss. L.A. made just 6-21 three pointers in a game they lost at the buzzer -- just a few more makes during the course of the game and it never comes down to the final possession.
For all the big mistakes and bad calls, the real play of the game may have been something a bit more subtle. The Clippers had built a six point lead, their largest of the second half, with three and half minutes remaining. On their next possession and the lead at four, a center pick and roll got the ball to Griffin just inside the free throw line, with only Hickson between him and the basket, and Jordan at the rim. For the last month, Griffin has been almost automatic in that situation, attacking the 2 v. 1 and getting a layup or foul for himself, or a dunk for Jordan. On this occasion he reverted to something he did frequently early in the season -- he didn't look at the basket, and instead reversed the ball to J.J. Redick on the wing, passing up a perfect opportunity. After not getting the ball at the rim, Jordan was called for a three second violation, the first of three straight bad possessions that allowed Denver to regain the lead.
These losses hurt -- arguable more than blowouts when the team can shrug it off and say "Oh well, it wasn't our night." They even regained the lead in an unlikely manner when Matt Barnes hit a three pointer with just six seconds left. But Foye's answer saved the game for the Nuggets. Interestingly, neither team had a good final possession -- they both looked like a mess, but they both resulted in three points. It's a funny game, this basketball thing.
The Clippers drop to 14-14 on the road, where they lost some real heartbreakers (Golden State and Portland back in December and now this one). Of course, if they can manage to beat the Heat back in L.A. on Wednesday, this loss will be a distant memory, but it sure would be nice to be heading into that game with a win.