Since Chris Paul was injured in Dallas two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Clippers have only lost two games. Once on the road in San Antonio, the team with the best record in the Western Conference. And tonight in Indianapolis against the Pacers, the team with the best record in the NBA. Both times the Clippers were playing in the second game of road back-to-back. I didn't figure the Clippers had a chance in either game.
Against the Pacers, the Clippers would have had a real shot had a couple of things happened. First, they needed to shoot well from three point range. Second, they needed Paul George to stay mired in the slump that has seen him shoot under 40% in the month of January. Neither happened.
The Clippers were 5-20 from deep. J.J. Redick, who was so terrific in his first two games back from injury, was 4-17 in the game and missed all seven threes he attempted. It was somewhat reminiscent of the first meeting, which the Clippers played without Redick. In that one, Paul was the only starting guard available for the Clippers, but he missed a slew of makeable shots as the Clippers lost by five. This time the roles were reversed; Paul was injured and unable to play, while Redick was in the lineup but just couldn't get shots to fall.
Meanwhile, George had his best game in weeks, making everything he put up. George was 12-17 in the game, and 5-6 from three point range. Given those numbers, it's very surprising that the Clippers managed to be within nine points early in the fourth quarter.
Because it's the Pacers, it's tempting to credit their defense with the Clippers 20% three point shooting and 40% shooting overall. Certainly the presence of Roy Hibbert at the rim and the general length of the team can make scoring a chore. But go back and look at the Clippers 20 three point attempts. Aside from a couple of heaves late in the shot clock, they were good looks, even great looks -- they just didn't go in. Redick was 0-7 on the same shots on which he shot 7-9 on Wednesday.
The Clippers needed multiple players to play well to have a chance and instead they got almost no one. DeAndre Jordan had a 12/17 double-double and held Hibbert to 2-9 from the field outdueling the Pacers' big man. Griffin finished with 19 points, but made just 6-18 from the field as his jump shot was not on target tonight (1-7 outside of the paint). And Jamal Crawford led the team with 22. But no one else showed up.
We've already discussed Redick's shooting struggles. Darren Collison was 4-8 against his old team, but also had four turnovers, some of them at the most inopportune times. Jared Dudley and Matt Barnes were not terrible, but mostly invisible.
The most interesting incident in the game occurred at the end of the first half. With just a few seconds left in the half, Blake Griffin stole the Pacers inbounds pass and went the length of the court where he missed a contested layup (it was probably too late anyway). After the buzzer, Griffin and David West both tried to grab the ball, and as players will do sometimes, both stubbornly held on, wanting the other to release. When the ball finally came free, West bizarrely and stupidly threw a weak elbow toward Griffin's head. He was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul and ejected from the game.
It wasn't enough to turn the tide of the game -- not the way Paul George was playing -- but it did give the Clippers some hope, particularly when Hibbert picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter. In the end it didn't amount to much, but it is interesting that for the second time in three games the "I hate Blake Griffin" wing of the NBA Player's Association has tried to abet a Clippers comeback. On Wednesday against Dallas, it was enough to lead to one of the great come-from-behind victories in Clippers history. Tonight it's just a footnote, but the good news is that these incidents are benefiting the Clippers lately where they invariably hurt them in the past.
As you well know from my preview of this game, I never gave the Clippers much hope in this game. As it happens, the would not have needed too very much to go well for them to have a chance. But those things didn't happen, and it's on to Detroit. A win over the Pistons and the Clippers will have begun this road trip 2-1, which frankly is what you would have liked heading out on the trip.
It will be interesting to someday play this Pacers team when the Clippers are actually healthy and can make some shots. But we're going to have to wait a while for that game at this point.