Credit to Golden State — The Warriors are a tremendous team, we all knew that. Few teams have the ability to come back from 23 down (and the Dubs might be the only outfit you actively expect to come back and make a game out of it). There's a reason they're still undefeated.
But this win wasn't as much about them — The Clippers were ridiculously hot in the first quarter when they built up their lead, but Golden State was unable to miss from the field in the fourth quarter (and finished the game 17-30 from beyond the arc). Despite their early dominance, the Clippers are capable of much better play (and Golden State didn't really play that poorly either, despite the turnovers and first-half deficit).
The Clippers lost the game — They were up by ten points with less than six minutes to go before giving up the lead. This was after letting the Warriors back within one. The Clippers should have had their fingers on Golden State's throat, but defeated themselves with bad coaching and poor defense.
Doc Rivers lost the game — His infatuation with playing Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce continues, and it's evident to everybody except him. I was worried about this since May, and unfortunately all my worst fears have been realized.
Both players are now bad defenders, they can't hit shots, they don't provide much offensively. This is even more true of Pierce than Crawford, who at least still has his handles, ability to get to the rim, and occasionally distribute. Playing one of them already taxes the team enough, but playing both together is suicidal. There's no rational reason to do so.
Yet Pierce played 32 minutes tonight, and Crawford 40 (the most of any player on either team). That's ludicrous. It's indefensible. We know Doc Rivers has a tendency to trust his veterans (and in the case of Crawford, this is defined by seniority rather than BBIQ), but overplaying two players over the age of 35 this much in the regular season is ridiculous — and that's if they were actually good tonight! Doc Rivers sticking with Pierce and Crawford is what lost the Clippers this game (as it has several others), and it's what will ultimately derail the team this year in the playoffs unless he gets his act together.
It's not on Pierce and Crawford either. They're older players, and they have obvious limitations. The onus is on Doc for thinking they're his best options down the stretch. They both played the entire fourth quarter! It's not a surprise at all that Golden State came back in the final few minutes, after gleefully exploiting their defensive weaknesses all game long. The Clippers had multiple opportunities for offense-defense substitutions but didn't seem to think defense was an issue. OK.
The Crawford-Pierce tandem played 24 minutes tonight. THEY HAD A DRTG OF 141.2.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) November 20, 2015
LAC DRtg with Jamal: 133.2 LAC DRtg w/o Jamal: 88.8 OTHER THAN THAT, HOW WAS THE PLAY MS. LINCOLN?!— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) November 20, 2015
Prior to tonight, 9 Clipper duos had played 165+ minutes together. Only 1 had a negative NetRtg. Guess who? Jamal + Pierce (-7.2).— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) November 20, 2015
Oh, one last thing: Pierce-Crawford tandem has played 40 minutes against the Warriors this season. Their DRtg is 134.1. Bye.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) November 20, 2015
Silver lining — The Clippers are undoubtedly a contending team. They have the ability to be a great team. The Warriors might be better, but the Clippers absolutely have the capability to beat them in a playoff series. They've led the Warriors by ten in the fourth quarter of both games, which isn't a fluke. They're not playing anywhere close to their best basketball.
The Clippers really only have one major flaw right now — Doc's stupidity in placing Jamal and Pierce in such large roles. The fourth-quarter offense was also an issue tonight (the Clippers went away from their usual pick-and-rolls and tried to isolate Blake and CP3 way too much), but the stagnation is something that will be alleviated by the return of Redick and in-season improvements.
The Clippers have the ability to be an elite team, but it's not going to happen until Doc starts giving the other players on the bench (Johnson, Smith, Mbah a Moute, and Stephenson) the chance to play and improve. And it won't happen so long as Doc insists on playing Crawford and Pierce together for extended minutes.
Ultimately — From Jay-Z, who was in the house tonight: "Moral victories are for minor league coaches."
To their credit, the Clippers do know that. But at some point the coaches have to learn from these losses and start becoming aware of the flaws in their rotations/gameplans.