There were so many things wrong about the Los Angeles Clippers loss in Atlanta tonight that it's difficult to isolate just one thing. Actually, that's not true. Three point shooting was easily the biggest factor in the Clippers' loss, but there were others as well. Through three quarters, as the Clippers trailed by between seven and 16 points more or less the entire time, the Clippers had made just one of 12 three pointers, while the Hawks were 9-18.
It was fitting then that the biggest shots of the fourth quarter, the shots that slammed the door on any chances the Clippers had in the game, were three pointers. The Clippers opened the fourth with four straight points to cut the deficit to five points, the closest the game had been since midway through the first quarter. On the subsequent Hawks possession, the Clippers played some great defense and had Atlanta pinned against the sideline as the shot clock ran down. Lou Williams forced a three pointer as the shot clock buzzer was sounding -- and increased the Atlanta lead to eight. At that point, the Hawks had made more desperation threes (Jeff Teague hit a less difficult buzzer beater in the first half as well) than the Clippers had made threes of any kind. Later in the quarter, the Clippers were still in the game, down nine with a little over five minutes left, when Kyle Korver hit a three while being fouled by Chris Paul. Korver's four point play stretched the lead to 13 and effectively ended the game. Korver finished the game 6-9 from beyond the arc, single-handedly outscoring the Clippers by six points from deep.
That this occurred in the second game since the Clippers lost starting shooting guard J.J. Redick is troubling to say the least. It's pretty amazing just how pedestrian the Clippers supposedly formidable offense looks when there's no perimeter threat. Starting wings Willie Green and Jared Dudley combined to shoot 7-19, 2-7 from deep. Basically, the Hawks were willing to give up those looks in favor of packing the paint to cut off Paul's driving lanes, and Green and Dudley were unable to make them pay.
At the same time, this is not a matter of a game the Clippers would have won had they simply made more three pointers. It would have helped immensely, there's no doubt about that, but this was not a sharp or energized team tonight. Although Blake Griffin had a good start and finished with 24 points, I didn't like his body language a bit, and he was ineffectual on the defensive end, where he gave back back all the points he scored, allowing Paul Millsap to go for 25. Millsap combined with Al Horford (21) and Korver (23) to score 69 points on just 49 shots. Bad three point shooting doesn't explain why the Clippers were completely unable to stop a Hawks team that was 19th in the league in offensive efficiency coming into the game.
For all the talk of how terrible the Eastern Conference has been this season, you couldn't prove it by the Clippers example. There are only three Western Conference teams with losing records -- two of them being bottom feeders Sacramento and Utah. The Clippers are 3-4 against the East this season, and have yet to beat an East team on the road. If the Clippers were beating up on the East the way every other West contender has been, they'd have a very different record at this point.
It's a terrible start to their seven game road trip. Now they have to go into Memphis tomorrow night and face their nemesis after a demoralizing defeat in Atlanta. There's no time to feel sorry for themselves, but if they don't make at least a few perimeter shots, it won't really matter.