So... Was it worth it?
Herm Edwards would probably say yes.
Prior to tonight's soul-draining 107-104 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks, Doc Rivers considered going the full Popovich and resting much of his rotation. The Clippers were entering their fourth game in five nights in four different time zones (yes, I'm as tired of writing that as you are of reading it by now). In two days loomed arguably the biggest game of the young season, a prime-time Christmas day showdown with the thoroughly terrifying and even more thoroughly irritating Golden State Warriors.
On Clippers Live pre-game, Clipper whisperer and infallible information source Mike Smith intimated that Doc was originally planning on resting his starters, but saw something in them tonight that told him they had enough left in the tank to be competitive.
So Jason Powell taped up knees, rubbed sore backs, and utilized the special treatment Hedu Turkoglu receives before every game on the road-weary troops (see below):
Doc was right--in a sense. The Clippers were competitive. In fact, save for some awful shooting from Jamal (blame it on the bursa sac, baby), some questionable officiating (actually questionable, not Blake after every offensive possession questionable), and Kyle Korver's surprisingly decent vertical, the Clippers win this game.
Which makes the second-guessing all the more painful. Chris Paul played 39 minutes tonight, above his season average, and spent a good portion of the fourth quarter hiding a limp--one night after scaring the hell out of everyone with that elbow thing in San Antonio. Blake Griffin played 36 minutes, taking a gnarly spill after a rebound in which he slammed his back (that same back with that once busted vertebrae) onto the hardwood. J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan did not suffer any "oh, God, I hope he's ok" moments, but each logged over 30 minutes.
There are no reports of serious injuries to Paul or Griffin, and the duct tape/laffy taffy/paper clip combo that keeps J.J.'s spine together appears to be intact. But these are the bumps and bruises that players accumulate over time, and that coaches like Popovich try so desperately for their stars to avoid. Granted, Blake and Chris are a lot younger than the Spurs big three. But, combined with the psychological impact of yet another closely-fought road loss (they're fifth straight), you have to wonder...
I am not saying that Doc playing the starters is going to kill our chances to win Thursday. I am definitely not saying that, even if it did kill our chances to win Thursday, it will kill our chances for success in April and May.
But you have to ask yourself: Was it worth it?
The Hawks' ball-sharing prowess was not over-hyped. The first quarter featured some beautiful pacing and spacing by Atlanta, as well as a bevy of backdoor cuts by DeMarre Carroll and others that repeatedly killed the Clippers and led to a 31-25 first quarter lead (more on DeMarre later). A fun back-and-forth occurred between rival Abercrombie models/sharpshooters JJ Redick and Kyle Korver, in which both hit threes on consecutive possessions. There was definitely a "mano a moussed hair mano" undercurrent between them during the game, with both players vying for spots in the next Armani cologne campaign. JJ finished with 18 points on 6 for11 shooting (3-6 from deep), while Korver went for 14 on 4 for 9 shooting (4-7 from deep).
The second quarter was an absolute thing of beauty for the Clippers, reminsicient of the third quarters of the 2012-2013 squad (I think I have that right). Instead of showing signs of fatigue, the Clippers began blitzing the Hawks about halfway through the quarter, looking fresh in transition while feasting off turnovers and holding the Hawks to 0 transition points in the first half. Blake led the way offensively, ending the half with a "here comes another Blake triple double" fifteen points, five rebounds, and five assists. Oh, and this.
Defensively, however, Hawks forward Paul Milsap had his way with Blake for the first three quarters. While Milsap didn't have the best shooting night, he did most of his damage drawing interior defenders and hitting open teammates on the perimeter. Milsap finished with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists.
The Clippers pushed the lead to 13 with about 9 minutes to play in the third quarter, punctuated by another Chris to DJ lob that seemed pretty pedestrian to us but stunned fans accustomed to Al Horford's vertical. If it wasn't for yet another semi-anonymous small forward, the Clippers might have broken open the game to the point where even Jamal's beautifully horrible 0-100 fourth quarter wouldn't have matter. Carroll hit a couple of key threes that kept Atlanta in the game, and then converted all three foul shots when DJ was called for what looked like "being too tall near a three point shooter" (technically not giving the three point shooter enough space to land, but he was definitely more Minute Bol than Bruce Bowen). Carroll finished with a career-high 25 points and 10 boards.
Entering the fourth, the Clips led 83-81. Cue the Jamal Crawford revenge blinders. Full disclosure: I love Jamal. I really, really hope we don't trade him (unless it's for a really good deal. Like two Jamal Crawfords). But this performance was hard to watch. Jamal repeatedly took Jamal-esque shots throughout the period--leaning jumpers, 6-foot finger-rolls, blindfolded step-back threes while strapped inside a shark cage underwater--and nothing was falling in. But he kept shooting, mostly at the expense of Blake, who was not really involved in the offense in the second half until the final two minutes, when we were desperately trying to recover from a 6 point deficit. Crawford finished a Kobe-esque 5 of 19 from the field.
Still, down three, the Clippers had a chance to tie the game with 6 seconds left. But a botched inbounds play involving Chris Paul and Blake Griffin led to a semi-desperate, leaning three pointer by Blake. Alas, there would be no Phoenix karma today.
- THE INTERNET: Ralph used my nickname for German-born Atlanta guard Dennis Schroder on the air: the umlaut. As I mentioned in the preview, I have no way of knowing if I originated that nickname or not. But I do know I posted that piece hours before tip-off. I will be twittering like a maniac shortly..
- DJ Being DJ: It's almost inevitable now. If you have an undersized and especially unathletic front-line, DJ is going to wreck your shit. DJ finished with 15 points and 22 boards, and may have permanently deterred Schroder from every entering the paint again.
- The Effort Level: I know, I know, people who talk about "effort" in the NBA typically are using the word to divert the conversation away from acronyms they don't understand, like PER or...NBA. But considering their schedule and the quality of the opponent, the Clippers could have folded in this one early in the fourth, while Atlanta was making it's surge. They kept it competitive till the end.
- Atlanta's Crowd: Best I can remember it.
- Jamal: I choose to blame it on the bursa sac. But that's just me. Overall, you can count the games Jamal has lost us in his three years here on one hand. Granted, one of those fingers might be Game 5.
- A Tribe Called "When The Hell Are They Going To Put The Starters Back In?": If you were hoping for a repeat from the San Antonio game, you didn't get it. Is it time to admit we really miss Spencer Hawes?
- The Officiating: Not Denver bad. But the phantom fouls on DeAndre and Bullock really hurt us.
- Baby keeps his games with consecutive gifs streak alive. Although this time he nearly flattened a ten-year-old boy to do so.
Small-Forward To Kill Us Tonight: DeMarre Carroll