So there it was. Last game of the strike shortened regular season for the Los Angeles Clippers. It was a disappointing result Los Angeles,playing for the chance to lock in home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Playing without Chris Paul, the Clippers dropped this game to the New York Knickerbockers 99-93. Box score is here. More after the jump.This was a pretty frustrating game for the Clips. With Chris Paul riding the pine after sustaining a minor groin injury Tuesday night in Atlanta. After battling with New York for most of the first quarter, the Clips missed 9 of their last 11 shots to close the quarter, and found themselves down by 5 at the half. The story early on was Carmelo Anthony, who had 9 points in the opening quarter, and was clearly not going to be stopped by any one defender on the Clippers roster. Make no mistake, Carmelo Anthony is back to form after a slow start this season, and he is as great of a scoring threat as any player in the league. Perhaps more impressive tonight, Carmelo seemed to be prepared for the Clipper double teams (which were often far too slow), and gave the ball up on several occasions, finding the cutters or open shooters. As a result, the rest of the Knicks roster got involved early and were playing with confidence. As the half went on, the Clippers made an effort to be a little bit more aggressive with Melo on defense, and brought some effective double teams, forcing melo to kick the ball out. But when the Clipper defense rotated back into position, the Knicks simply went back to Melo who had an opportunity to go one on one against the over-matched Clipper wings.
Melo wasn't the only problem for the Clippers tonight. Baron Davis made 5 of 10 including a pair of three balls, and JR Smith and Steve Novak combined to shoot 7 of fourteen from downtown. Carmelo Anthony played limited minutes in the second half, but the Knicks were able to torture the Clippers in the 3rd quarter with a Tyson Chandler pick n Roll, aided by a defense spread thin trying to cover the Knicks 3 point shooting threats. The Clippers managed to turn the ball over 13 times (including 3 traveling violations) and most of those were through the first 3 quarters. They also managed to miss 11 of 25 free throw attempts. In other words, the Clippers weren't doing too much very well in this game.
In the third quarter, Randy Foye decided that it probably was unfair to ask Blake Griffin to be the only Clipper player playing halfway decent basketball. He responded in a big way, dropping 16 points in the quarter, and kept the Clips with 8 points of the hometown Club. But things got ugly to start the 4th quarter. The Knicks were in the bonus in under 4 minutes. Carmelo and Amare were able to get comfortable on the bench, watching as the Knick lead grew to 14 points. After a profanity laced tirade aimed towards my television set, I decided that I had just about had enough and may as well start writing my recap now (my apologies to club optimism). After my brother half heartedly suggested that there was still enough time to make a run, I pointed out that as soon as we do, Carmelo would be back in the game along with Chandler and Amare, and they would simply ice the game.
But something funny happened. The Clippers, to their credit, began playing hard against the Knicks second unit. The lead was cut below double digits, but Carmelo was still on the bench. You see with Orlando winning tonight, it became impossible for the Knicks to move to 6 in the standings and avoid playing the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat. With that possibility eliminated, Knicks coach Mike Woodson opted to play the game out, leaving his stars on the bench. The Clippers capitalized, punishing the Knicks when they double teamed Blake Griffin. Woodson would ultimately put Chandler back in the game so that he could single cover Griffin. The Clippers were able to get the lead down to three points and had the Ball. Randy Foye took a three in transition that missed. The Clippers managed to get a stop, followed by Blake Griffin hitting a tough runner in the lane over Tyson Chandler, cutting the lead to 1. It looked like the Clippers might steal a win and home court, but JR Smith answered, hitting a jumper over Kenyon Martin after getting the switch at the top of the arc. The Clippers failed to get a shot off out of a timeout, and the rest, as they say, is history.
So the Clippers, after winning 12 of fourteen games and putting themselves in a great position to win the pacific division, managed to drop 3 of their last four games. None of them were what you would call "gimmes", but they were certainly all winnable games. A single victory in on the road against Atlanta or New York would have secured home court advantage over the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. With the result tonight, The Clippers will need Memphis to lose at home tomorrow night versus the Orlando Magic. Memphis will surely be favored in that matchup with Dwight Howard sidelined. It will be disappointing if the Clippers fail to secure home court, but
ultimately, it shouldn't be much too much of a concern. Obviously you don't want to play game 7 on the road, but with a healthy Chris Paul running the show, I have no doubt in the Clipper's ability to win a game or two in Memphis, and handle business at home. I've got my seats for home game 1 and can't wait.
Blake Griffin: It was a great individual performance from Griffin, who battled with the much longer (and likely defensive player of the year) Tyson Chandler tonight. Griffin scored 29 points on 11 of 14 shooting, to go along with 10 boards, 6 assists, and just a single turnover. Unfortunately, Blake struggled from the free throw line tonight, making just 7 of 14. Missing that many really hurts the Clips, and we have all seen how tough the Clips can be when they are shooting well from the line.
Eric Bledsoe: Going into the contest, I felt the x-factor in this game was Eric Bledsoe. His ability to defend, push the ball in transition, and penetrate would be key for the Clippers, who were bound to struggle somewhat in the halfcourt. I thought Bledsoe played well and should have played more, as he finished with only 26 minutes. He was just 1-5 shooting, but had an encouraging 5 assists, including a really nice drive and find to Blake Griffin. Perhaps Mr. Paul is rubbing off Bledsoe, which would certainly be good news for this ball club.
Deandre Jordan: Deandre Jordan has been the most worrying player for me as of late. In a game where Tyson Chandler was put on Blake Griffin and pulled away from the rim, Deandre Jordan needs to be more involved in the offense. While that is largely an issue for his teammates and the coaching staff, his effort and hustle is obviously entirely on him. Deandre has the ability to dominate aspects of the game with his length and athleticism, and I am not seeing the necessary effort consistently as of late. The coaching staff needs to get on DJ and get his head in it for the playoffs, because he is going to be a key to getting a first round victory.