The Clippers started out the game flat and uninterested, and while they slowly improved throughout the game, they were down double digits most of the way and never lead. The first quarter was just terrible basketball, especially on offense, with no ball movement and very few good shots. The Clippers could not get open against Washington's admittedly very strong defense, but a lot of their issues just seemed to be a lack of intensity and focus. Their missed shots then lead to transition opportunities for the Wizards, and John Wall and Bradley Beal made the Clippers pay.
Trailing 30-21 after one, Doc Rivers turned to the bench hoping for a spark, but just couldn't get it. While the subs played with more energy than the starters, they were equally unable to score the basketball, as Jamal Crawford missed shot after shot. It is true he was playing injured, but his quickness and movement seemed fine: he was merely off today offensively. When that happens, the Clippers struggle, and it was especially bad tonight. In the meantime, Spencer Hawes came down awkwardly and had to leave the game. While his injury was labeled as only a knee contusion, he still never made a return. The starters came back in, and made a small push, but never really seemed close to taking over. Chris Paul simply could not shake John Wall, and had 4 turnovers in the first half, which until tonight was the most he had in any game this season. Meanwhile, the Clippers bigs were getting out hustled and pushed around by the Wizards big men, with Humphries in particular getting to lots of loose balls. When DJ left the game with 2:21 with 3 fouls, the Clippers were only down 5, but the Wizards promptly went on a 12-2 run and pushed the lead to 57-42 at halftime.
The third quarter was much of the same, though it was the only one in which the Clippers outscored the Wizards, albeit by a mere two points. Wall and Beal continued to run in transition, but the real force was Marcin Gortat, who scored 14 of his 18 points in the period. This was because DJ picked up a quick 4th foul and sat with around 8 minutes to go. With Jordan out of the game and Hawes injured, Gortat went to town, hitting turnaround jumpers, hook shots, and getting buckets in transition. Late in the 3rd, Hedo Turkoglu hit back to back 3s and the lead went to single digits, but the coldness of Jamal Crawford stopped the Clippers from getting any closer.
To start the 4th quarter, Doc Rivers used a zone defense, which Ralph claims was the first use of it this year, but Beal hit a 3 on the first possession and the zone was abandoned after. However, the bench all of a sudden started upping the defensive pressure, and for the first time all game the Wizards looked rattled. The starters came in at the 7 minute mark with the Clippers only down 8, but Nene quickly scored and the lead remained in the low double digits for the next several minutes. The turning point came in the 4 minute mark, when Wall blocked a Chris Paul layup and the Wizards scored, and then Beal stole the ball from Wall and scored a layup on the other end. This effectively ended the game, and Doc subbed the starters out with 2 minutes left.
Chris Paul: CP3's final statline was solid enough, but he just wasn't very good tonight, and was out played by John Wall from start to finish. Wall's length and athleticism clearly bothered Paul when he had the ball, and he had to work extremely hard to get free. His 6 turnovers were a season high, and while a few were uncharacteristic, a lot of them were due to Wall's stellar defense.
Blake Griffin: If anything, Blake was even worse, looking very passive out on the floor, and getting out hustled and outmuscled by Gortat and Humphries. He only took 13 shots, and a lot of them were mid-range jumpers. He looked out of it all night, but the worst part was that his defense suffered as well, which just can't happen on off nights scoring the ball. Blake pulled down a mere 3 rebounds in 30+ minutes, which is simply unacceptable. He needs to keep working on his intensity and focus even when things aren't going well.
The X-Factor: In the preview, I named Bradley Beal as the game's x-factor, and he certainly was tonight. He got free in transition frequently, and used this to both drain 3 pointers and attack the basket. He scored a seemingly effortless 29 points, and probably could have got more if he really needed to. On the other end, he guarded Redick well, following him through his myriad of offball screens, and had 3 steals as well. He was the best player on the floor tonight, closely followed by his backcourt partner John Wall.
Free Throw Shooting: One of the few good things about tonight's performance was the frequency and rate at which the Clippers got to and converted at the free throw line. They drew 31, and made 26 for a mark of 83%. Unfortunately, this was offset by the 30% three point shooting and 42% total mark from the floor.
The Wizards: The Wizards looked pretty damn good in this game, and while they were unable to blow the Clippers out on an off night, that really is not their style. Their defense was as good as advertised, with Wall in particular seemingly everywhere on the court. The Wizards offense isn't as strong, but they are deadly in transition and Wall can make something out of nothing on a fairly regular basis. Once a guy like Beal gets hot, they can be very tough to beat.
Takeaways: The Clippers need to play better than they did tonight to beat very good teams like the Wizards. The ball movement must be crisper, as the Clippers were seemingly unable to get any open looks for the bulk of the night. Also, they need to step up their defense, though sans DeAndre Jordan it is very difficult for the Clippers to protect the rim. The most simple thing is that they need their best players to step up, and CP3, Blake, and Jamal were all pretty poor tonight.