Saturday night, while the Clippers were playing the T-Wolves, I was in the Pepsi Center in Denver watching the Avs. Anyway, the suite had a computer with web access so I was following the Clippers game (although I couldn't post because ClipsNation.com was blocked by the parental controls for some fucking reason). The last update I saw was Cassell's three for a nine point lead in the fourth. I went over and watched some hockey, and the next time I checked, the game was over, and the Clippers had lost by 8.
I was more than a little confused. At first of course I thought the Clippers had won the game - it wasn't logical that a 9 point lead had turned into an 8 point loss in 5 minutes, so just looking at the score, it had to be the Clippers ahead. But alas, no, as you are all aware, the Clippers were outscored an astounding 19-2 in the last 5 minutes.
I watched the first quarter and the last quarter on TiVo after returning home from my trip, masochist that I am. Here's what I saw.
What makes this game unusual is that it did not follow the pattern of Clipper ineptitude this season. The Clippers m.o. has been to start slow, dig a big hole in the first quarter, and then try to climb out. Sometimes they've been able to (Denver on Nov. 2, Philly); sometimes they haven't.
But for the first time this season, LA came out fast. Behind Sam Cassell's hot shooting, the Clippers took a 26-17 first quarter lead, extended it to as much as 16, and held 12 point lead going into the fourth. As well as the Clippers play D when they need to, it seemed this game was in the bag.
But not this time. Instead of getting key late stops as they have in wins against Denver and Phoenix, the Clippers got exactly zero stops with the game on the line on Saturday. The Wolves scored 19 points on 9 possessions to win the game. Some of it was unlikely to be sure - Randy Foye, who was 1 for 10 shooting 3's on the season, was 2 for 2 in the fourth quarter, including the first points of the quarter and the first points of the 19-2 run. Then, moments after Foye's 3, on a busted play that could easily have been a turnover, the ball ended up in Marko Jaric's hands for another 3. 6 points in 45 seconds to cut a 9 point lead to 3, the crowd went nuts, and the Clippers had no response. None.
I suppose there are some positives to be taken from this game, if we take the extraordinary step of ignoring the last 5 minutes. Elton Brand was at his most agressive offensively. Sam Cassell was terrific. The team shot over 53% and committed only 14 turnovers. But all of these things really need to add up to a win.
On the other hand, Livingston and Thomas combined for a total of 3 points off the bench, and the Clippers were once again out-scored significantly at the free throw line (where they lost the game to the Lakers). The game might still have been winnable if not for 5 missed free throws in the first 6 minutes of the fourth.
These are supposed to be the Clippers' strengths - getting to the line, shooting a high FT percentage, defense. In this game, they failed miserably on all counts.