Here's the thing. If you don't want to play catchup, then don't fall behind by double digits. But if you do fall behind and find that you have to play catchup, you pretty much have to make your free throws. The Clippers are a very good free throw shooting team (79% on the year, 4th in the NBA). And overall, they shot right at their average in this game (23 for 29). But four of their six misses came in the final 3:32 of the game. During that time, the Clippers cut a 10 point lead to 5 with 5 straight points. But they also missed those 4 free throws. I mean, that's 9 straight, and a 1 point game with 60 seconds left and the Clippers with the ball if they make the free ones. They did everything else right, getting four consecutive stops at a crucial time - they got offensive rebounds, they got defensive rebounds, they forced turnovers, and they drew fouls. But they went 3 for 7 from the line in a crucial 2 minute stretch when they could have pulled this game out. Forced to shoot exclusively three pointers the rest of the way, they missed their last 5 field goal attempts.
Failed comeback and missed free throws aside, for all intents and purposes, the Clippers lost this game in the 2nd quarter. Here's the frustrating part: I said in the preview that the Hornets starting lineup was impressive, but they were not deep. At the start of the second quarter, the Hornets second unit of Hilton Armstrong, Melvin Ely, Rasual Butler, Bobby Jackson and Jannero Pargo outscored the Clippers' Kaman, Thornton, Patterson, Mobley and Dickau 13 to 4, turning a 24-19 Clipper lead into a 28-32 deficit. That simply should not happen. After Kaman scored 7 straight to give the Clippers a 35-34 lead, he picked up his 3rd foul and was forced to sit out the final 6 and a half minutes of the half. The Hornets took the lead for good with under 5 minutes to go and never trailed again.
This was a winnable game. Chris Paul was very ordinary (11 points, 10 assists). Tim Thomas (13 points, 12 rebounds) achieved a statistical draw with David West (18 points, 8 rebounds). Kaman (18 points, 12 rebounds) solidly outplayed Tyson Chandler in limited minutes. The Clippers even won the rebounding battle, 45-39, a rare occurrence lately. But ultimately, the absence of Kaman for the majority of the first half coupled with 40% shooting was too much to overcome. Chief among the cold shooting culprits were Cuttino Mobley (5 for 15, 1 for 5 from three), and Sam Cassell (3 for 10 and 1 for 4). In fact, the three point shooting alone (6 for 22 for the Clippers versus 8 for 15 for the Hornets) more than accounts for the difference in this game. (And it sure didn't help that the Hornets drained last second threes to end both the second and third quarters - that's 6 points right there, in a game where the lead was 5 with less than a minute to play.)
The good news is that Kaman still has not had a really poor game this season. In 12 games, he's had 9 double doubles, and has scored in double figures EVERY SINGLE GAME. Three first half fouls, limiting him to less than 11 first half minutes, is a big part of the reason the Clippers were behind by 7 at half time. This team is truly dependent on the big lug at this point. Maybe MDsr needs to let him play with 3 fouls.
The Clippers have now fallen back to .500 for the first time since the season began. With two tough games remaining in November at home versus the Rockets and at the Nuggets, they'll be hard pressed to avoid having a losing record for the month.
Of course 6-6 is still great based on our pre-season expectations, and even more impressive when you factor in the additional injury issues. But the team's margin for error is wafer thin - losing a winnable game is going to haunt them.