For the second game in a row, a team that seemed otherwise incapable of winning an NBA game, has beaten the Clippers. First it was the Cavaliers, breaking their NBA record 26 game losing streak. Tonight it was the Toronto Raptors who were the beneficiaries of the Clippers' trip into town. The Raptors had lost 16 of their last 17, but that sort of thing doesn't matter when you're playing the Clippers.
It would be great to say that the Clippers played poorly in these two games and attribute the losses to disinterest or lack of effort or some other excuse. Certainly their defense in Cleveland, and to a lesser extent tonight, left much to be desired. But for the most part, both of these games seemed like hard fought contests between two evenly matched teams, with the lead changes to prove it. But given that Cleveland and Toronto are among the worst teams in the NBA right now, the fact that the Clippers played OK and played them close and lost allows only one conclusion - the Clippers aren't very good right now.
Certainly without Eric Gordon that would seem to be the case. Part of the problem in Gordon's absence is that the team continues to suffer a significant drop off the moment Baron Davis steps off the court. Baron was plus 11 in a 16 point loss in Orlando. He was plus 6 though regulation of the OT loss Friday in Cleveland. He was even in this game which the Clippers lost by five. Beyond the plus/minus, in the first quarter of nearly every game this trip, the Clippers have started well, only to have a significant let down the minute Baron goes out for his first rest. Were Gordon healthy, it seems reasonable to assume that the team could weather these absences better. There aren't many people the Clippers can run their offense through, and with Blake Griffin suffering continual double and triple teams, that mostly falls on Baron right now. Gordon is not just their leading scorer, but also one of their best playmakers and a guy who can generate offense in a variety of ways.
As it happens, after consecutive strong games, Gordon's replacement in the starting lineup, Randy Foye, had a dreadful night tonight, shooting just 2 for 14. The third man in the Clippers' three guard rotation also struggled, shooting 2 for 9. Nonetheless, Vinny Del Negro rode the guards hard tonight, playing Foye a team-high 37 minutes, and giving Bledsoe 32 as well. That included at least 11 minutes of the three guard set in the second half. I like the three guard set - when Gordon is one of the three guards. With Foye and Bledsoe together in the three guard set, you're giving up a lot in defense and rebounding, without seeming to get much in return on offense. Certainly there wasn't a lot of return on investment tonight.
As I said, the teams were remarkably well matched tonight. They each turned the ball over 13 times, scoring similar numbers of points off turnovers. They each had 20 fast break points. The Clippers had 46 points in the paint to Toronto's 44. The Raptors shot a little better from the field, but the game was essentially decided by the fact that the Raptors got five more shots, owing primarily to five extra offensive rebounds, 14 overall.
The sequence of the game came in the fourth quarter just after the four minute mark. After the Clippers had gotten within two on a Griffin offensive rebound and dunk, Andrea Bargnani faked DeAndre Jordan into the air, drew a foul and somehow also got got a 20-footer to go in off the glass. On the next Clippers possession, Jordan missed a dunk as he was being fouled and made one of two free throws. After two more Bargnani free throws, Bledsoe missed a layup as he was being fouled and made one of two free throws. In the course of 80 seconds, Bargnani had converted an extremely unlikely three point play, while the Clippers had managed just two points on two golden three point opportunities. The lead stood at five, and the Clippers would get no closer the rest of the way.
The points in the paint number for the game is quite telling. The Clippers should pretty much never get beaten in the paint, and in fact should dominate the category. To allow the Raptors, with no inside players to speak of, to score 44 points in the paint and essentially break even on inside scoring is a problem. DeAndre Jordan, who had 19 blocked shots in three games back in early January, has blocked four shots total in the last five games.
The Clippers have now dropped five out of six games on their Odyssey, with two games left before the All Star break. Tomorrow night in Milwaukee will be very difficult - because it's the second game of a back to back, and because the Clippers aren't very good.