The Clippers may come to regret games like this. In April, when the playoffs begin and the Swallows return to Capistrano, the Clippers won't have to wonder why they're so tired.
If you're waking up on Tuesday morning, seeing the score, spitting out your coffee, and wondering why this game was close, I can show you. 44-18. 18-7. Those are points in the paint and offensive rebounds. The Jazz led both. By a lot.
In a game that was frequently played at a college-level of execution, the Clippers won the 4th quarter by four points to win the game by -- ta-da! -- four points. Blake Griffin, who spent most of the game loitering just inside the 3-point arc, sank a few big jumpers to ice the game and came up with some impressive blocks, some of which were wiped away by the referees who were in inconsistent form. Chris Paul led the 3rd quarter, and the Clippers did just enough to survive a Utah team undaunted by the starry home team.
Now, to be fair, there is this:
Clippers will get back to regular practice after a grueling month http://t.co/CZSEAhJg4K— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) December 30, 2014
And it seemed to show. One expected several Jazz jumpers to fall several feet short of the basket. One would not expect such things from the 3rd-best offense in the NBA, which the Clippers happen to be. And yet, there they were, clanking shots like seventh-grade schoolboys.
Oh, and there were so, so many shots. Fellow Clips Nations scribe FlyByKnight wittily observed on Twitter that the Clippers must have been playing a game of 'hot lava', such was their aversion to the paint.
There were highlights. DeAndre Jordan seemed ready to play. He may have forgotten his hands at home, as he missed a couple early lobs and yipped away a few fastbreak passes, but he pulled down 19 rebounds, 10 in the 1st quarter.
Perhaps the story of the night, which lies somewhat hidden in the box score, is the continuing misadventure of the bench unit. We had "A Tribe Called Bench". This current unit needs a nickname. "The Party Poopers"? How about "The Salvation Army"? How do you describe a lineup so intent on giving away what the starting lineup has earned?
The struggles of the bench have been well-documented thus far, but tonight's game provided a few particularly vivid illustrations. In the first half, the Clippers' bench scored 10 points. All 10 points came courtesy of Jamal Crawford. I scribbled down the combined stat line for the other four reserves to see floor time tonight (Jordan Farmar, Reggie Bullock, Glen Davis, and Spencer Hawes, although Hawes will get a partial break because he just returned from injury). In 20 combined first half minutes, they tallied -- are you ready for this? -- three rebounds (none of the offensive kind), zero assists, zero blocks, one steal, one turnover, two personal fouls, and a partridge in a pear tree. They missed all five of their field goal attempts and their only three-pointer.
Bench play can be overrated, as rotations shorten come playoff-time, but if Doc Rivers can't trust his reserves to hold a sizable lead over an overmatched opponent, then Doc will play Blake for 24 straight 2nd-half minutes like he did tonight. And Blake will have to hoist himself up with the net to block shots like he did tonight.
All in all, it was a win, but it felt like a loss. The Clippers did enough, but let's be serious: enough is enough. A trimester is gone, and in the Western gauntlet, every win will count toward playoff seeding. The Clippers need to win the games they are expected to, and do so without expending energy that will cost them in April, May, and (dare I say it) June. The Clippers need to put bad teams away early, and it may all start with the bench. Party poopers.
Some other (mostly serious) things I noticed:
- Many Twitterers noted this, but Jamal Crawford nailed two three-pointers to tie Peja Stojakovic as the 9th-most prolific three-point shooter in NBA history. Cheers to Crawford, who was so derided early in his career for failing to live up to some lofty expectations. He is a unique player, a fascinating scorer, and trade him or not, an important piece of the Clipper franchise's recent rise to the NBA marquee. Extra note: Did you know that Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, and Jason Kidd are all ahead of Crawford on the career three-point list? I sure didn't. Vince Carter???
- I alluded to it in the main piece, but it's worth repeating: that block by Blake Griffin on Derrick Favors with 31.6 seconds remaining was C-L-E-A-N.
- I mentioned him briefly in the preview and he didn't let me down. Rudy Gobert is a monster. A long-armed, mythical monster. On Twitter, I likened him to Ryan Hollins on Super Soldier Serum. Anthony Davis is long. Rudy Gobert is LONG. Enes Kanter had a strong game tonight, and his ability to space the floor makes him a solid fit next to Derrick Favors, but Gobert may force his way into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.