When the Clippers shot 40.5% against Portland in the first game of the season, we assumed that the poor shooting was an anomaly, and that surely they wouldn't shoot 40% in their next game. Indeed not, as they regressed to 38.6% in their game 2 loss to Golden State. So, there's no way they shoot in the high 30s in game three against Dallas, right?
Right. Try the low 30s. Proving once again that things can always get worse, the Clippers, who entered the game shooting 39% as a team, shot 34% against the Mavericks during their 99-83 loss.
The Clippers shot chart looks like a tic-tac-toe game where both players wanted to be X's. Jason Kidd made as many threes from the Clippers end of the court as Eric Gordon did, and he was shooting at a basket 70 feet away.
I made a point of the Clippers' poor shooting thus far in the game preview, and mentioned three starters who were struggling in particular, Baron Davis, Chris Kaman and Ryan Gomes. Feeling left out, both Blake Griffin and Gordon struggled today, and the Clippers starters as a whole made just 16 out of 53 shots, which is barely over 30%. The starting lineup for this team was supposed to be it's strength; it was supposed to be among the best starting lineups in the league. Instead, they're the gang that can't shoot straight.
The Clippers fell behind early, as Gordon missed four wide open threes, and didn't really come close on any of them. It must be incredibly frustrating for coach Vinny Del Negro when the team gets what looks like a good shot, but still can't score. There are certainly times when the offense struggles to generate good scoring chances; but in the end it matters little, because they have so much trouble converting even when they do execute well.
The Mavericks employed a strategy against Blake Griffin of daring him to shoot, and then swarming him near the basket. And they weren't afraid to rough him up a bit along the way. Griffin went to the line 12 times (making a respectable 8), and probably should have gone more. At least one of the fouls should have been called flagrant, as Brendan Haywood grabbed him by both shoulders as he rose to the basket. I wouldn't think the NBA would want a prized rookie getting treated like that.
The bright spot for the Clippers in this game is that the draft picks got their first significant minutes of the season, and they responded well to the opportunity. Not that Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu looked like world beaters, but they played well enough and didn't look at all overwhelmed, which frankly was more than a little unexpected for me. For a time in both the first and third quarters, the Clippers fielded a lineup of Bledsoe, Gordon, Aminu, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan - five players between the ages of 20 and 22 at five different positions on the floor. It must surely be the best (if not the only) U23 team in the NBA, and it's easy to get excited about the potential of that group, but today they showed more than just potential, as they ran off a 9-0 run to cut an eleven point deficit down to two. If nothing else, they played with energy, which was sorely lacking in the vets.
Alas, the starters had to come back eventually, and after Jason Kidd's 70 foot heave gave Dallas the lead back at the first half buzzer, the Mavericks pulled away in the third quarter, in a period that was reminiscent of, if not quite as dismal as, the same period against the Warriors Friday night.
Why did VDN decide to play the rookies? Has he been reading Clips Nation, hearing the pleas of the fans to give the kids a chance to show what they can do? Probably not. Randy Foye sprained his hamstring in practice on Saturday and was inactive for this game (he'll likely be out a couple of weeks). Foye's absence opened up the back up point guard spot for Eric Bledsoe. Foye also has been the primary back up to Gordon at the two guard, so his injury opened up more minutes there for Rasual Butler, who slid over from the three, which gave Aminu a chance at the three. Obviously the fact that the Clippers have been playing very poorly made it easier for Del Negro to experiment a little (it's not as if what he'd been doing was working), but Foye's injury is the main reason the kids got in the game.
Of course it doesn't much matter how you get the foot in the door - these guys will have to play their first minutes at some point, and the sooner they start getting burn, the sooner they can get some of those rookies mistakes out. For instance, Bledsoe passed the ball to Aminu on the wing in the first quarter, just as Aminu was cutting to the basket, running a different play. These kinds of things are going to happen - a lot. Bledsoe finished with 4 turnovers in just 16 minutes. But it doesn't change the fact that eventually they need to be in the lineup, so we might as well get through some of these growing pains sooner rather than later.
With the San Antonio Spurs coming into town tomorrow night, the Clippers' difficult early season schedule continues. They had better find the basket pretty soon, or it's going to be a long season. At the rate they're going, they'll be around 30% tomorrow.