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Memphis 84 - Clippers 83 - A Plague of Turnovers

I had almost convinced myself that games like this were not going to be a major problem for the rest of the season; that the U23s had matured enough to at least keep the turnovers around 20. In other words, way too many, but not a crippling number against lesser opponents. Obviously I was wrong, and it's worth remembering that as good as they have looked at times, these guys are still VERY young and inexperienced..

You could not ask for a more illustrative game of what this team has to work on. The Clippers won, oin many cases dominated, almost every aspect of this game. They outshot the Griizzlies (46% to 42%). They made more threes (7 to 4). They outrebounded them (43 to 31). They got more offensive rebounds (14 to 9). And yet they lost - because they turned the ball over 27 times.

You have to give the Grizzlies some credit for forcing the turnovers. This is the third highest turnover game in the NBA this season, and in all three cases the turnovers came against Memphis - they forced Phoenix into 28 turnovers on November 5th and Minnesota also committed 28 against them on October 30th. But given that the Suns and T-Wolves each play at a very high pace, I think we can say that the Clippers today had the highest turnover rate of any team this season.

For a time it looked like LA was going to win this game easily. They built a 12 point lead in the second quarter, and were getting open looks on a regular basis. But then the turnovers really began to hurt them. From the end of the second quarter until the end of the game, it seems as if the Clippers probably had more possessions with a turnover than not - I know that can't be true, I'm just saying that's how it seemed.

Over the final two minutes of the first half and into the first two minutes of the second half, the Clippers turned the ball over on seven out of nine possessions, a truly remarkable sequence. They only got two shots up in those four minutes, and were lucky that Brian Cook's leaning three at the end of the first half went in. They were also lucky that at the end of the sequence their lead, which had been nine, had only been trimmed to two - they probably should have fallen behind. But it changed the game completely nonetheless. It demonstrated to the Grizzlies the way they were going to win the game. It wasn't by outshooting the Clippers or outrebounding - the only way they were going to win was by pressuring the Clippers into mistakes, and that's what they did the rest of the way. In an even more horrendous two minute stretch in the fourth quarter, the Clippers turned the ball over on five consecutive possessions. This time they weren't lucky enough to emerge unscathed, as their three point lead because a three point deficit. The Clippers had something in the neighborhood of 20 turnovers in the second half alone. It was a debacle, and not a lot of fun to watch.

And while you do need to give the Grizzlies some credit as I said, much of this was on the Clippers themselves. Tony Allen is a good defender, but his four steals in 16 minutes were definitely abetted by some astoundingly lackadaisical passes. Watching at home, I was screaming at the TV as Eric Bledsoe telegraphed passes into lanes where Allen was lurking. I knew he was there; I saw him. Why didn't Bledsoe? Given that turnovers had to be the primary focus of the halftime discussion and every subsequent huddle, it's hard to fathom why the Clippers weren't more careful with the ball. Allen and the Memphis defense are both good at forcing turnovers, I won't take that away from them - but the Clippers didn't make them work particularly hard for their takeaways tonight.

Although from a statistical standpoint Baron Davis wasn't much more safe with the ball than Bledsoe (Bledsoe had 5 turnovers in 23 minutes, Davis 4 in 25), the team was much more effective with Baron on the court. Davis was +13 in his 25 minutes while Bledsoe was -14. That's a pretty stark difference. It was probably Bledsoe's worst game as a starter (though I said that about the Portland game last week, and in fact it's a tough call). EBled's going to be OK - but he's going through a tough stretch right now. He needs to stay aggressive and look to score more. Unfortunately, he couldn't get anything to fall tonight. He missed three shots where his penetration got him right to the rim - they were terrific drives, but he just couldn't finish. One wonders if all those misses got him thinking too much, and he started overpassing, and making turnovers.

While Davis was much more effective than Bledsoe in the game, I'm not particularly pleased that it was Davis taking the final shot when the Clippers got the ball back down one with five seconds left. The Clippers final four points and six of their last eight had come from Eric Gordon. Rather than Baron fading away over Mike Conley (not a bad look in that situation, but certainly not a good one), I'd much rather have seen Eric Gordon going to the basket. He's had success in late game situations this season, in particular at Utah and against the Kings last week. I for one wanted the ball in his hands. Of course we'll never know if the outcome would have been any different, but if the team is building around Gordon and Griffin, then the more end of game chances Gordon gets, the better in the long run.

The final play also brings up an age-old debate - to call a time out or not to call a time ou?. The Clippers played outstanding defense in the final 30 seconds, knowing that they'd get a chance to win the game if they could get one stop. They forced a difficult shot, and Griffin grabbed the long rebound out of the air and headed downcourt with a head of steam. The whistle blew, and all that forward momentum ground to a halt, because the Clippers had called time out. Obviously, you discuss in the huddle beforehand what you want to do, and you can't get too convoluted in the logic: "We want a time out immediately, unless the rebound is long or if we've got a good pass up court, or... blah blah blah." But you know, coaches are allowed to call timeout from the bench this season - why even put it on the players? Why not tell them to get the rebound and look for whatever is there, and have the coach call the timeout if it makes sense? After re-watching the play, both Baron and Ryan Gomes (the veterans) signaled time out as Blake was streaking toward the hoop. I'm sure they were told to do that - but in retrospect, you'd MUCH rather have Griffin with on the fly with one man to beat than a side out of bounds against a set defense.

Blake had his eleventh straight double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds, and he also added 5 assists. But it wasn't his best game. Gordon led the Clippers with 25 points on 15 shots, but was part of the team-wide turnover epidemic with 4 giveaways.

Against the Grizzlies, when you dominate the boards and hold Rudy Gay to 5 for 12 shooting and 12 points, you pretty much have to win. Yet somehow, the Clippers again found a way to lose a close one.

Bizarre Whistle of the Game: Near the beginning of the avalanche of Clipper turnovers that began late in the first half and never really stopped once it started, there was a traveling call against Craig Smith. Now, many of you know not to get me started on the way traveling is called in the NBA. From a strict reading of the rule book, traveling occurs at least once on a majority of NBA possessions. Players are particularly sloppy with their footwork upon catching the ball, and the three step finish (like a Wade spin, or even just a Euro step layup) has become so common place that it has become a de facto legal move, based on the way the game is called.

All of which makes it so maddening when referees call a phantom travel.

With 1:40 remaining in the first half, Smith caught the ball on the left wing. After holding the ball for a couple of seconds, moving neither foot, the whistle blew and the referee indicated traveling. WTH? He was completely stationary, literal standing in one place, not moving either foot. There are lots of times in the NBA when a player is pivoting, and the pivot foot slides this way and that, and I think, "whoa, they could call traveling on that play." My favorite is when a player makes a catch with both feet in the lane, and after a couple of pivots, without a dribble, suddenly his feet are no longer in the lane, which is handy for avoiding 3 second violation. Given all the footwork shenanigans that go unpunished, how on earth could they have called traveling on Smith as he stood motionless?

It is POSSIBLE that the ref was calling traveling on the catch... but I have a couple of problems with that. First and foremost, while the aforementioned strict interpretation of the rule book might give a travel on that play, as Smith may have taken a couple of steps after catching the ball and before coming to a stop (depending on when exactly you feel like he made the catch), it was certainly no worse, and in fact not as bad, as multiple such plays in the game that were deemed legal. Over and above that, if the call was on the catch, the whistle was absurdly late. Did the referee have to think for five seconds?

The fact that it was one of the turnovers that started a deluge that washed away a victory just makes it all the more maddening.