The Clippers opened the season by losing their first four games. Over the next 41 games, they never fell more than five games below .500, hovering somewhere within striking distance of that elusive milestone. It is only fitting that they reached their low ebb, 20-26, six games below the break even point, in a game that represents the low ebb for pretty much the entire league this season - because no other team has lost to both the Nets and the T-Wolves this season, and I'll wager that no other team will lose to them back to back.
The Clippers held a players-only meeting this morning in the aftermath of the Nets game. If the goal of that meeting was to attack the Wolves with a new sense of purpose, it didn't work. Do they need another meeting now? LA fell behind tonight 9-0 and 19-5 in the first quarter, and trailed by 23 in the second quarter. On the bright side, from that 19-5 deficit 6:32 in the game, the Clippers managed to play to a 92-92 draw the final 41 plus minutes. So they've got that going for them.
Sometimes in a bad lossa team will look unmotivated. Sometimes they'll just miss shots. Sometimes it's both. As opposed to the New Jersey game, the Clippers didn't look particularly flat tonight - they seemed to play hard, but they just weren't sharp. On three separate occasions in the first quarter as they were falling further and further behind, the Clippers failed to finish man-advantage fast breaks. They came away with nothing on two two-on-one breaks, and merely two free throws on a three-on-two. In addition to these missed break opportunities, the Clippers missed multiple shots right at the rim throughout the game, missed a ton of wide open three point attempts, and were an atrocious 14 for 27 from the line.
In contrast to the New Jersey game however, there was something quite positive to come out of this one. Baron Davis took over in the third quarter, scoring 23 points in that period alone to help get the Clippers back into the game. This is positive for a couple of reasons. For one thing, we saw that Baron still has the ability to take over games, perhaps not at will, but if it's only from time to time, it's still a good thing. Once we knew the Blake Griffin was gone for the season, the real focus went to next year - even if the Clippers this season could have made the playoffs, they clearly weren't going far without Griffin. But adding him to a solid team could produce a very good team next year. The bad news is that Davis will be that much older by the time Griffin gets out there. If Baron Davis circa 2007 could join Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman next season, that could be a scary good foursome. Sadly, we don't have a time machine - but Baron seemed to step into one in the third quarter tonight.
Perhaps even more significant than the fact that he was ABLE to score 23 points in a single period was the fact that he WANTED to. I think we all suspect that Baron mailed in the final 60 or so games of last season - if not all of the game all of the time, at least a large percentage. Faced with a frustrating situation in Minneapolis tonight, behind by 20 and without his leading scorer, Baron didn't fold up his tent. Instead he put the Clippers on his back and tried to carry them to a win.
He might have succeeded too had the Wolves not been able to hit big shot after big shot. In the third quarter alone, while the Clippers outscored the Wolves 36 to 26 to pull within nine, Minnesota was 5 for 5 from beyond the three point arc. Basically, if they don't shoot the lights out from downtown, the Clippers probably would have caught them in the third.
But, they did shoot the lights out - all game. In the end, this one felt more like the Wolves winning the game as opposed to the Clippers losing it (although of course you can't have one without the other). Either way, the Clippers fall to 20-26.
Here's something amazing I was reflecting on yesterday. 17 days ago, the Clippers took a four game winning streak into Memphis. At the time, LA was 17-18 and the Grizz were 18-18 and both teams were looking up at several other teams between them and the last playoff spot. Had the Clippers won, they would have been ahead of Memphis at that point in the schedule. And of course, they had a big lead through three quarters, and also had a chance to win the game at the buzzer. But the victory went to the Grizzlies and the next day the Clippers found out that Blake Griffin would undergo surgery. Since then, the two teams have had completely opposite fortunes. The Clippers have fallen further and further off the pace, while the Grizzlies now hold the 8th spot in the standings. My point is, although no one would have thought it reasonable to suspect that Memphis could go from 11th to 8th in less than three weeks, that's exactly what happened. All it takes is one really good stretch of play.
Of course, the Clippers seem congenitally incapable of sustaining unusually good play. They are much more likely to sustain unusually bad play. No one would have thought it reasonable three days ago that the Clippers could lose to both the Nets and the Wolves. But that's exactly what happened. All it takes is one really bad stretch of play.
Five games into this very long road trip, the Clippers are now 1-4. They've lost to the two worst teams in the league, games that they were clearly planning to win when they visualized how this trip would go. The last three games come against the Cavs with the best record in the league, the red hot Bulls, and the Southeast Division leading Hawks. If they don't figure out how to make shots again very quickly, they're staring a 1-7 trip and a five game losing streak in the face.