It was December 18 last season when I went into 'youth soccer coach' mode and just tried to say positive things as the losses piled up. I'm tempted to go there now as the Clippers drop to 1-9. But there's a big difference; that team had a host of injuries to key players - like the AYSO team whose best player quits, they just never had a chance. This Clippers team has plenty of talent, yet they keep losing. So although there were at least a couple of encouraging signs in this game (as opposed to the last two), we just shouldn't be reduced to scrounging around for these table scraps of decent basketball. Not this early in the season. Right?
Let's be clear. The Clippers offense stinks. It's no fun to watch even when it's working, and most of the time it's broken. Take the third quarter. For over 8 minutes, no Clipper other than Cat Mobley made a field goal. So I guess that's a decided improvement over the routine stretches in other games this season where no one at all made a field goal for 8 or 9 minutes - I mean, at last Cat was making some shots, and he kept them in the game. But one more Mobley fall away and I'll put a bullet in my temple. Iso after iso after iso, and sure, Cat was scoring. But every other Clipper is standing around, getting less and less into the game. It may get you some scores, but is it a good plan? And I have another question - you know how Baron et al have been talking about the thickness of the MDsr playbook. Seriously, how many pages do you need for "clear out the side for <insert name>"? I find the concept of some thick playbook pretty mystifying. Pages upon pages of plays, and apparently not a single one of them actually works.
Watching the game, I got the feeling that the Clippers were really getting nothing out of the three spot. Thornton had a bad game, and Ricky Davis was even worse. In fact, when Ricky dribbled off his knee for a crucial turnover with a little less than 3 minutes left, I was really hoping that MDsr would put Gordon in and leave Thornton on the bench - but no, he came back with Al. So, like I said, I thought the three spot was hurting the Clippers tonight. But I just looked at the plus/minus stats, and Thornton was minus 7 and Ricky was minus 10. How is that even possible in a game you lose by 3? I mean, obviously I know that they had to be on the court together for awhile - and they did play 52 minutes combined. But still, it's kind of mind blowing that two guys playing the same position can be responsible for that much damage in a close game.
Obviously Baron didn't shoot well, and I think it's safe to say that the Clippers aren't going to win many games this season when Baron is 5 for 17 and 0 for 8 from distance. Ouch. Did I mention that it was a 3 point game? If Baron is merely 'horrible' on his threes, the game goes into OT. If he can kick it up a notch to 'bad', the Clippers win.
But as I said, there were some encouraging signs in the game. For one thing, the Clippers outrebounded an opponet for the first time this season. Finally. More importantly, the Clippers got some stops. Actually, they got stop after stop after stop done the stretch, something that they were completely incapable of doing against Sacramento or Golden State. After a Bruce Bowen layup gave the Spurs their biggest lead of the game at 81-70 with 6:44 left, the Clippers actually started to play some very good defense. On their next 10 possessions, the Spurs got almost nothing. The one shot they made was a wacky runner in the lane that banked in as the shot clock expired. On the other 9 possessions, the Clippers forced one shot clock violation, four other turnovers, a blocked shot and three misses on contested shots. It was a long, long time ago, but I seem to remember a Clipper team from a few seasons back that used to actually win by getting stops done the stretch of close games.
Unfortunately, the offense continued to look inept throughout. Possession after possession down seven, they couldn't get a score. The defense kept getting them the ball back, and the offense kept coming up empty. Kaman got deep position, but had his shot blocked by Duncan. Mobley got out on the break after a steal, but had his shot blocked by Matt Bonner. Matt Bonner! (By the way, for a pretty good scorer, Cat is a pretty bad finisher. He had two break opportunities in the second half where he came up empty. It would help if he could dribble and/or use his right hand.) Ricky clanged a three and then dropped the ball out of bounds. It was ugly.
They finally found the basket for a mini-run to tie the game with a minute to go. They even got another steal to give themselves a chance to take the lead. But Mobley's three (the exact same shot he'd made to tie the game a moment before) was short.
On the other end, after playing almost flawless defense for 6 minutes, the Clippers made two mistakes on the Spurs final possession. First of all, Ricky and Cat got crossed up when Bonner downscreened for Roger Mason. Mason was wide open for awhile before Ricky finally picked him up on the switch. But the Spurs wanted to hold the ball and burn some time, which they did until about 10 on the game clock. Duncan came to the top for the high screen and roll, and the Clippers made their second mistake. Duncan's monster pick completely obliterated Ricky, and Camby (as is his tendency) decided not to show on the screen. I suppose you live with Roger Mason taking the game winner - who knows, maybe MDsr even told Camby to stay home on Duncan on that pick and roll. But Mason's a shooter, and you sure don't want to give a shooter a wide open rhythm three with 8 seconds left in a tie game. That's exactly what happened, and he drained it.
The Clippers final possession was a train wreck. We can tear that page out of the playbook.
So there you have it. One win ten games into the season. Seven home losses.
The big showdown is coming up Wednesday. Against 1-10 Oklahoma City. Someone has got to win. I think. Maybe not.