The vaunted, top-rated offense of the Los Angeles Clippers opened their road trip in Orlando against the Magic with a nice play that created an open look for the red hot J.J. Redick. The first quarter also featured a fast break lob to Blake Griffin, a dunk for DeAndre Jordan, a wide open layup for Jared Dudley and a series of open jumpers.
Oh, did I mention that the Clippers missed all of those shots?
Sometimes the shots fall and sometimes they don't. The Clippers entered Wednesday's game shooting over 50% from the field on the season as a team. Their top six scorers were all shooting over 50% individually. Yet they shot 38% for the game Wednesday. It gets worse. Consider this: the Clippers made 14 of 19 shots during a nine minute third quarter run in which they outscored the Magic 32-7 and turned a 19 point deficit into a six point lead. Take away that stretch and the Clippers were 22 for 76 -- that's worse than 29% -- the rest of the game. Ouch.
In crunch time, when the shots really count, Redick had a wide open three pointer to tie the game with 25 seconds left, and Chris Paul -- the best player in the NBA through the first week of the season -- missed a wide open layup with the Clippers down four and still holding out hope with 18 seconds left. Paul had missed an open three that would have given the Clippers the lead a minute earlier. What are you gonna do?
Let's not take anything away from the Magic, who seemed like anything but a tanker tonight. Nikola Vucevic had 30 points and 21 rebounds, the second 30/20 game of his brief career though I have a feeling it will not be the last. The Magic hustled and scrapped, they contested shots, they made big shots, they made big free throws. Arron Afflalo didn't have his best game this season, but the shots he made were not easy, and they were very big -- none bigger than the turnaround with Jared Dudley draped all over him that gave the Magic the lead for good with just under two minutes left. That started a 10-1 Magic run to close the game, with the final eight points of the run coming from Vucevic. Orlando absolutely earned this win -- even if they might not have gotten it had the Clippers shot better.
In five games this season, Paul has been nothing short of brilliant in the three Clipper wins, and mediocre or worse in the two losses. He's 26-47 from the field, 55%, when they win, 13-32, 41%, when the lose. Making the whole season to date something of a mystery in a lot of ways. We basically have very little clue what the Clippers will look like when Paul is his usual (still All Star) self. Not off-the-charts, does-whatever-he-wants Paul, and not 40%-missing-layups Paul -- just the regular amazing player we're used to.
How bad is the news from the game? It depends on your perspective I suppose. I'm not concerned about the offense. If you run your sets and get good looks, good things will usually happen. The Clippers weren't Houston-sharp tonight, but they were fine on offense. If the shots don't fall in one game, they probably will in the next. The defense remains a problem, but it will come. In the biggest moments, the Clippers defended pretty well, and Orlando made tough shots.
The news from the bench isn't good at all, where no one named Jamal Crawford made a shot, and they wouldn't have scored save for a couple of technical free throws by Darren Collison. Matt Barnes, one of the bench players who has struggled the most, sat this one out with a bruised quad muscle freeing up some minutes for our old pal Willie Green -- who was 0-2. Green, Collison and Byron Mullens were a combined 0-9. The Clippers really need to get something from those guys -- especially Collison and Barnes whenever he's healthy -- or they're going to wear the starters down.
DeAndre Jordan had a big night on the glass with 19 boards, but uncharacteristically had a terrible time finishing (3-10), and obviously he didn't do enough -- or really anything -- to slow Vucevic.
The best news for the Clippers came from Griffin as he made seven of the 13 jumpers he took. Or is that bad news? It's nice that he made a fair few, but should Griffin really be taking 13 jumpers in a game?
We're still early in the season and the Clippers remain very much a work in process. This is not a game they expected to lose, and when they stormed back in the third to take a six point lead, I'm sure they expected to cruise to victory from that point. But NBA teams are not going to roll over, and Orlando played tough until the end to come away with the win.
In an evening of mostly bad news, perhaps the worst of all is that Griffin played 40 minutes and Jordan played a career high 44 -- and the Clippers have to play the NBA Champion Heat tomorrow night.