It sounds strange to say, but before tonight’s 105-82 loss to the Grizzlies, the Clippers had, at least of late, grown accustomed to playing with a lead. What made this development even more unusual was that it had come away from Staples Center. In the opener of their five-game road trip, which came to a disastrous end tonight, the Clippers outscored the Bobcats in every quarter before pulling out a 92-87 win. In Boston, the Clippers nearly choked away a 23-point lead but managed to hold off the Celtics for another narrow victory. The Clippers weren’t so lucky in New Jersey, where they squandered a 20-point cushion, but still led most of the way before losing in overtime. Then, against the Wizards, the Clippers went ahead early in the first quarter and never looked back on their way to one of the easiest wins of the season.
So when Zach Randolph made a 15-foot jumper midway through the second quarter to give the Grizzlies a 37-26 lead, the double-digit deficit felt oddly unfamiliar. Yet, as the next two-and-a-half quarters unfolded, the Clippers bricking jumpers right and left while the Grizzlies did as they pleased, all the unpleasant memories of the disjointed team we saw earlier this season came rushing back with a vengeance.
Mo Williams: 11 points, 2 assists, 5 turnovers
DeAndre Jordan: 7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks (15 minutes)
Randy Foye: 8 points, 1 assist, 3 turnovers
Ryan Gomes: 0 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist (Gomes left the game in the third quarter with a bruised right knee)
If you add up the scoring totals, you'll see that the starting lineup combined for just 34 points, a number Randolph (30 points on 12-for-18 shooting, 12 rebounds) nearly matched by himself. Which is ridiculous. I can understand a few players having off nights, especially against defenders like Tony Allen and Shane Battier, but for all five starters to lay stinkers? You're going to get blown out, and that’s precisely what happened to the Clippers. Even the bench (48 points) outscored the starters, but that's less a product of an impressive effort by the second unit than it is all the garbage time that was played in this one -- basically, the entire second half.
Even when the Clippers finished the first quarter down just a point, it was only a matter of time before the Grizzlies broke this one wide open. Turnovers were a glaring issue in the teams' last matchup, an 84-83 Memphis win in which the Clippers coughed up the ball a season-high 27 times, and the Clips were at it again, throwing lazy passes that were easily deflected or picked off and converted into easy baskets at the other end. Tonight, the Grizzlies had 14 steals and scored 24 points off the Clippers' 19 turnovers. A lot of these points were scored in transition, with the Grizzlies getting 30 fast break points against a defense that constantly found itself on its heels.
Meanwhile, the Clippers finished with just 2 points on the break. But they couldn’t get anything going in their halfcourt sets, either. Much credit is due to the Grizzlies defense, which seemingly had its hands in every passing lane, but the Clippers simply didn’t move the ball and only mustered 4 assists in the first half. Eric Bledsoe momentarily revived the team when he came into the game midway through the first quarter and aggressively drove to the rim nearly every time he touched the ball, but for the most part, his teammates just stood around and watched. Really, it’s no surprise that the Clippers shot just 40 percent from the field (including 4-for-17 from 3-point range) when you consider that most of their opportunities came outside any sort of flow on offense. Even the decent looks wouldn’t go down, but that’s what happens when you don’t develop any rhythm to begin with.
This might have been Griffin’s worst game of the season. He freed himself for one dunk, but other than that, it was as if he wasn’t even on the floor. The Grizzlies did an excellent job of crowding him on pick-and-rolls, not giving him space to operate, and when Griffin got the ball down low, the Memphis bigs simply stood tall and forced him to shoot over them -- something he did with little success. On defense, he was absolutely dominated by Randolph, who had six offensive rebounds and got whatever look he wanted when he wasn’t putting back a miss.
You can't put all the blame on Griffin, though. It was an all-around disappointment by the entire team. I did, however, like what I saw out of Bledsoe. After scoring 23 points in 22 minutes against Washington, Bledsoe had another strong performance, this time leading the Clippers in both points (19) and assists (4). That 4 assists was a team-high speaks to how poor a game the Clippers played, but that’s beside the point. For entire stretches tonight, Bledsoe was the only thing the Clips had going for them, as he was getting to the rim, drawing defenders and either finishing himself or dumping it off to a teammate for a score. On one sequence in the fourth quarter, he came off an Ike Diogu screen and was instantly doubled. The early-season version of Bledsoe might have panicked and thrown an errant pass, but this time he waited for both defenders to collapse on him, turned, spun and whipped a dart to a diving Diogu for an easy dunk. Things are slowing down for the rookie, and despite the fact that he’s played more than a few minutes in garbage time lately, we’re beginning to see evidence of that growth.
One last takeaway: This was a disturbing loss because the Clippers play the Grizzlies twice in April. Chances are, the Grizzlies won't replicate what they did tonight in completely shutting down the Clips both inside and outside, but more turnover-heavy games could equal more embarrassing blowouts before season’s end. Against Memphis’ relentless perimeter defense, it all starts with taking care of the ball, and if the Clippers can’t do that the next time out, they’ll be in for another long night.