Final Score - Rockets 88 - Clippers 71. Fourth Quarter Score - Tracey McGrady 17 - Clippers 13. Oh, and McGrady assisted on 5 other points in the quarter.
Shouldn't there be a different class of coach in the NBA? The kind that has to work on stuff, and then the kind that has a Tracy McGrady or a Kobe Bryant or a Dwyane Wade. The entire fourth quarter, here's what the Rockets did. They gave the ball to McGrady. That's it. That's the whole play. Must be nice. Beats all those X's and O's.
Frankly, it's much more surprising that this game was tied at 61 than that the Clippers lost by 17. They shot less than 33% as a team, and got outrebounded by 11. I'm not at all clear on how they were still in this thing early in the fourth.
The game could not have started better for the Clippers. On the first possession, Chris Kaman went around his nemesis Yao for a reverse jam, eliciting a 'Whoa' from ClipperMax. He then proceeded to make two straight jumpers taking Yao away from the basket. Next, he went to the hoop again, drawing a foul on Yao and sinking two free throws. Kaman started the game 3 for 3 and had 10 points in the first 6:32.
From that point he went 4 for 17 with 7 turnovers.
The decisive moment of this game actually came less than 4 minutes in when Sam Cassell left with a strained calf muscle and did not return. The Clippers of course signed some veteran point guards this summer as insurance against Cassell's infirmities, but as it happens both Brevin Knight (strained groin) and Dan Dickau (hyperextended elbow) have been banged up as well. Whether it was those injuries or simply that they sucked tonight, they sucked tonight. The two of them combined for 2 for 15 shooting, 3 assists and 4 turnovers. Knight was 0 for 6, and given that it's Brevin Knight, almost all of his misses were on wide open shots. The kind of shots your teammates in your rec league expect you to make.
We've talked before about the Generic Clippers' wafer thin margin for error. They just don't have enough weapons to succeed with anything less than excellent all around play from all of their top players. Well, they didn't come close to getting that tonight. With Cassell gone, Mobley ineffective (2 for 7) and Kaman off after his fast start, the Clippers found themselves going to the likes of Ruben Patterson and Aaron Williams at crucial points in the game. TMac's 7 straight points to begin the second half came amidst bad misses from Knight and Williams. Later, the Clippers tried to counter the decisive 20-2 fourth quarter run with consecutive Ruben Patterson post ups, resulting in a turnover and a miss. (I have grown to hate the Ruben Patterson post up - good things rarely result.) After Knight missed his sixth shot, he passed up at least two wide open jumpers, and both of those possessions resulted in turnovers (a Knight travel and a Kaman travel). Playing 4 on 5 on the offensive end is tough. Put Knight out there with Ross or Patterson, and now you're playing 3 on 5.
The lone bright spot in this game was the return of Corey Maggette, who scored 21 points on 13 shots, and is the only Clipper who makes scoring look like anything less than an arduous chore. Sure, Kaman got another double double (22 and 13), but (a) we've come to expect that and (b) he took 20 shots to get 22 points. Unfortunately, Maggette's return is more than offset by the loss of Cassell, if only because that was the only shoe that had not yet dropped.
Make a list of the six most important Clippers on the roster: five of them have now been injured this season, and we're only 13 games in. Obviously we know that Brand and Livingston are gone for awhile. But Mobley, Maggette and Cassell have now all been lost for at least a couple of games (I'm assuming in Sam's case) to strained muscles. The worst part of it is, all the naysayers who predicted disaster for the team are tsk-tsking and saying "Told you so, they're too old and that's why they're pulling muscles." I suppose this could all be happening to 23 year old players - but it's not.
So the Clippers fall below .500 for the first time this season. They also have a season long 3 game losing streak. They are also just .500 at home. And worst of all, they are 2-7 since opening the season with 4 wins. Injuries have certainly played a big part in their struggles. But injuries are a part of life in the NBA, and an even bigger part when you've got the 3rd oldest roster in the league.
They've got three days off to rest their aging bodies.