As it happens, I re-watched The Big Lebowski for the 437th time over the long weekend, and so it seems timely that one of the basic tenets of Dudeism perfectly describes today's game in which the Indiana Pacers narrowly defeated the Los Angeles Clippers: "Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear, well, he eats you."
The Clippers played one of their best games of the season in my opinion. They did many, many things well. They simply didn't make enough shots; especially big shots with the game on the line.
They also failed to secure some crucial defensive rebounds it must be said, but even many of those felt as much like bad luck as anything else.
In any game you can make a laundry list of things that didn't go your team's way, but the list in this game seems particularly extensive. Things like DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin fighting each other for a rebound which then goes out of bounds, or Griffin grabbing a ball that clearly bounced on the end line before it bounced again, only to have the referee wrongly rule the ball off of Blake, or Jordan seeming to swat a rebound off of Roy Hibbert's hand and the ref seeing it differently, or Willie Green slipping on a wet spot that the ball boys had failed to clean up from the directly prior play leading to a three point play, or several rebounds that the Clippers seemed to have, but just couldn't quite find the handle on.
The Clippers led for a grand total of 12 seconds on the afternoon, so it hardly seems like they deserved to win, but at the same time, they played well enough to win, and it seemed like they were going to pull it out at the end. In such a game, you often expect that the team with the best individual player is going to come out on top. In this one, Chris Paul would be the first to tell you that he had his chances to win it, but just didn't get it done.
The Clippers tied the game at 94 with just under five minutes remaining on an absolutely brilliant play by Jamal Crawford where he came up with a steal and then flipped the ball ahead to Darren Collison for a dunk. But Indiana came right back with a huge and-one play from George Hill to re-take a three point lead. And from that point on, the Clippers just could not catch a break.
With the Clippers down one, referee Tony Brown ruled that Collison had not given Hill enough room to land on his three point attempt -- the only problems being that (a) he blew the whistle literally after the Clippers had the rebound and (b) it was the wrong call, since Hill had jumped forward as much as Collison had jumped forward. Yes, you have to give a jump shooter room to land, but only if he jumps straight up. Hill's three free throws gave the Pacers a four point lead.
The Clippers, needing a score and a stop, got exactly that -- and then Collison stepped on the sideline as he was making his move to the basket.
So the Clippers needed another stop, which they got, and on the ensuing possession they got EXACTLY the shot they wanted, a wide open 14 footer for Paul which would have tied the game -- but he left it a hair short.
So the Clippers needed another stop, which they got when David West missed a step back jumper, but what seemed like an uncontested Clippers rebound ended up with Hill barely flipping the ball out of Jordan's hands, off of his head and into Hibbert's hands -- who was then fouled by Jordan (another frustratingly late whistle, but at least in this case it was the correct call).
Which put the Clippers back down four, and in need of a score and a stop again, which they AGAIN got. And AGAIN they got the shot they wanted, and again Paul missed a wide open 15 footer.
It was then almost fitting that the Clippers came close to getting the ball several times over the final 29 seconds while down two, but never actually secured another possession. They almost had a steal in the backcourt, almost forced an eight second count, almost got a rebound off of Paul George's miss, almost got a rebound off of Roy Hibbert's tip, and almost got a rebound off of Lance Stephenson's missed free throw while they were still only down three and had one last chance with six seconds left. But like a bunch of bullies playing keep away on the playground, the Pacers just wouldn't let the Clippers have the ball back, and the game slipped away.
It's clear that Indiana's insane length was a huge factor in this game. The Pacers had as many offensive rebounds as the Clippers had defensive rebounds. West and Hibbert actually collected more offensive boards (11) than defensive boards (9) on the afternoon. And yet it's hard to find too much fault with Jordan and Griffi, who actually outrebounded West and Hibbert overall, 24-20.
Was the absence of the injured J.J. Redick a factor? Well, it certainly didn't help the Clippers given that Willie Green, inserted into the starting lineup in Redick's stead, was 1-5 with zero threes, rebounds, assists, steals -- two points and zero everything else. Meanwhile, Crawford, coming off his best game as a Clipper, was just 6-19 on the day, and 1-6 from deep, leaving the Clippers shooting guards just 1-9 from beyond the arc. Aside from a scintillating 95 seconds early in the fourth quarter in which he made three straight baskets and scored 10 points, Jamal was just 3-16. And while the Pacers have the highest rated defense in the league, the vast majority of the misses from Green and Crawford and even Paul had nothing to do with great defense -- they were just misses. Because sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.
In the big picture, it's one loss in an 82 game schedule. The win would have been nice, but there were many encouraging things as well. The Clippers defense held the Pacers to 44% shooting -- though obviously they allowed too many offensive rebounds. The bench, which has been such an Achilles heel this season, was excellent in this one, completely outplaying the Pacers reserves. Rookie Reggie Bullock was particularly good, scoring 10 points on 4-4 from the field. Basically tweak any of several numbers -- 4-15 from three, 6-19 for Crawford, 6-15 for Paul, etc. -- back towards their rightful averages, and the Clippers win.
The Pacers, on the other hand, are absolutely the real deal, depending on how representative this game was, or more specifically certain parts of the game. In the first half, in which Paul George scored 18 points on just 11 shots, George looked like not just an MVP candidate but the outright MVP. Everything he did looked completely effortless, to the point where I had to ask myself "He can't possibly be THIS good, can he?" The answer turned out to be no, as he went 3-12 in the second half, and everything that had come so easily suddenly looked a bit labored. But George is clearly special (he finished with 27), and West (24) and Hibbert (19) are both beasts. If those guys can provide steady offense, the Pacers' defense, especially their length, will give them a chance in every game.
It goes down as a frustrating loss -- the Clippers just need to bounce back and clean up on their seven game road trip.