The Clippers have shot terribly on the first three games of this trip: 35 for 86 (40.7%) in Utah, 37 for 86 (43%) in Orlando, and 38 for 89 (42.7%) in Miami, for a dismal 42.1% on the trip going into tonight's game. So the game in Charlotte figured to be another nightmare, given that the Bobcats defense is among the league leaders in opponent field goal percentage and leads the league in points against.
Instead, the Clippers broke out of their shooting slump to make 42 of their 73 shots for 57.5% - and they still lost. The culprit is evident right there in the shooting numbers - they only took 73 shots, and worse yet they only took 9 free throws. Why so few attempts to score? Because of 23 turnovers.
The Clippers were a turnover machine tonight. If they started playing well and cutting into the lead, a timely turnover could be counted on to stop the momentum. They turned the ball over after rebounds. They turned it over on fast breaks. They turned it over after turnovers. They turned it over with a fox, they turned it over in a box. I do not like turnovers, damn, I do not like them, Sam I Am (Cassell).
And these weren't just your ordinary, everyday turnovers. It seemed as if every single one of them led to a layup or a dunk for the Bobcats. Charlotte scored 32 points off of the Clippers 23 turnovers. For a team that averages 103.7 points per 100 possessions, letting them have the equivalent of 139 points per 100 possessions on 23 turnovers is just devastating.
Turnovers have been killing the Clippers ever since Kim Hughes took over. Tonight was the fifth time in 17 games under Hughes that they've topped 20, and they have a couple of 19s as well. The other thing that has been killing the team on this trip has been their total inability to get to the free throw line. On the season, the Clippers average almost 25 trips to the line per game. On this trip, they have taken 39 free throw attempts in four games - my computer-like mind tells me that's fewer than ten per game. Wow. That's terrible. Some of that is the absence of Eric Gordon, who is one of the better players on the team at getting to the line. But normally Chris Kaman and Baron Davis and Craig Smith and Drew Gooden all do a pretty good job of drawing fouls as well. Not on this trip. Kaman took one free throw tonight, which was actually an improvement over the last two games in which he took zero free throws. Why has the team stopped getting to the line? Mainly because they've been settling for jumpers. Why are they settling for jumpers? It's hard to say for sure, but my guess is that they've realized that it's a lot easier to do than to work hard and get a good shot going towards the basket. I think that's why they call it settling.
The other thing the Clippers were truly terrible at tonight was closing quarters. In the first quarter, the game was tied at 23 with 3 minutes left and the Bobcats scored the final eight points of the quarter to take a lead they never again relinquished (by what happens to be the final margin of the game). During that run, Kaman missed one layup, and also dropped a pass out of bounds that should have resulted in a layup. In the second quarter (bearing in mind that the Bobcats started with an eight point lead), the Clippers were nine down with two minutes left in the half. They gave up the final seven points of the quarter to dig a 16 point hole at halftime. Of the Bobcats 16 point halftime lead, 15 of it was built at the end of each of the first two quarters. Aside from those outbursts, this game is tight right until the end.
During the horrible close to the half, Baron was visibly upset - with his teammates, with the refs, with everyone seemingly. As a team, they turned the ball over on three out of four possessions of the half, and Baron was getting frustrated. When the Bobcats got yet another steal with 4 seconds left (this one from Baron, so there was no one to blame), Baron gave Gerald Wallace a shove as he was streaking to the basket. Wallace came down hard and turned his ankle - after taking the free throws assessed after the flagrant 1 call, Wallace went to the locker room and did not return for the second half of the game. I don't know if Baron Davis is well liked in Charlotte from his playing days in the city - but if he just put their best player in street clothes for any significant amount of time during their first ever playoff race, he will be well hated going forward.
On the positive side, Baron had one of his most productive offensive night's of the season, getting to the basket with regularity and making 10 of 15 shots for 24 points. He did it with such ease that it makes you wonder why it seems like such a struggle other nights. In addition to Baron, Drew Gooden (8 for 9), Travis Outlaw (6 for 10 and four threes) and Craig Smith (4 for 6) all had great night's from the field.
Too bad it was all for naught.