The "turkey" being referenced here isn’t the actual turkey most of us will be eating on Thanksgiving. Rather, it’s the truth of the situation. The 2015-16 Los Angeles Clippers are terrible. They stink on ice. They do nothing well, do mostly everything poorly, and are, quite frankly, an embarrassment to watch on most nights. They lack hustle, determination, and that drive to be successful at this present moment in time. So, let’s talk about it. Let’s reflect and vent.
The head coach across the hall of STAPLES Center has come under fire this season because of his inadequacies as a head coach and his hogwash flip-flopping comments made after every game. Unfortunately for Doc Rivers, a lot of what he has done this season has gone a little bit more under the radar than what Byron Scott is doing. Both franchises in Los Angeles are enduring horrific starts to the season. Both have their various reasons for it, but the same truth still remains – the city currently does not have a professional basketball team with at least a .500 record.
Since starting the season with a 4-0 record, and despite not looking great in any of those games, the Clippers at least seemed like they were on the right track. They were winning games in which they were playing relatively mediocre. That is not the case anymore, though. The team has since lost 7 of 9, and they are now a woeful 6-7 after three consecutive losses. The only game the team actually got blown out in was the foray into the desert where the Phoenix Suns smacked them around in the second half as the Clippers played without Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, and Blake Griffin. At least you can rationalize that one.
In the first loss of the season, the one to the Golden State Warriors on the road, the team was up by ten points with just under eight minutes to play. With 1:15 to play, the Clippers still clung to a one point lead. The win was there for the taking. They simply just didn’t grasp it. Their second loss of the season was to the Houston Rockets in a game the Clippers probably feel like they blew due to rotational and schematic choices. On top of that, Blake Griffin’s game-tying tip-in with 17 seconds to go was not properly called goaltending. Therefore, the Rockets got the ball back and still had the lead. Sometimes that’s the way it goes. It must be noted that the team played that game without Chris Paul.
Their third loss of the season was to the Dallas Mavericks and was a little hard to swallow because of just how it happened. The Clippers had a lead with two minutes to go, and trailed by just two points with 1:15 to go, before they wound up losing by ten points. The Clippers lost J.J. Redick in this game, so there has to be some measure of understanding. However, it also coincided with Chris Paul shooting terribly, and also Dirk Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews shooting a combined 20-of-27 from the field. A lot of those shots were tough ones. One can actually understand this loss, but it still stings. The game was right there for the taking, and then it wasn’t.
The loss to the Phoenix Suns was already mentioned, but it bears repeating that the team was without both Paul and Redick in that game. Even then, they were still only down by just one point late in the first half when Griffin got ejected thanks to two weak technical fouls. You live and you learn. This is pretty much the only game they didn’t have a chance in late in the contest. This is probably the one loss the team has that you can honestly point to and say, "this one doesn’t really hurt." You can rationalize it as a schedule loss and, when combined with the injuries and ejection, at least brush it off to the side in some capacity.
The second loss to the Warriors, and fifth loss of the season, truly stings. A lot. The team had four days off prior to the Warriors coming to STAPLES, and they even jumped out to a 23-point lead in the first half. That’s when everything started to slowly unravel. Paul Pierce and Jamal Crawford played too many minutes together, the team was slow with rotations, they stopped making shots, and they started lollygagging. Either way, the team still had a ten point lead, yet again, in the fourth quarter against Golden State. This one came with 5:45 to go. They even had a two point lead with under two minutes to play. And then the lead was gone. Again. That was the second time this season they had the Warriors on the ropes and couldn’t finish the job. It hurts.
The next night up in Oregon against the Portland Trail Blazers was a little hard to digest, as well. The team shot poorly, struggled to box out Ed Davis, and frankly looked dead tired – both physically and emotionally. To cap it all off, Blake Griffin tweaked his left knee and looked human instead of cyborg. Yet, with all that happening, the Clippers were right there with Portland. They were down by just one point with four minutes to go. And then all hell broke loose. Griffin and Paul missed jumpers to tie before Damian Lillard came down the court and hit a pair of threes that he hoisted from Medford, Oregon. Suddenly the Clippers were down too much and that was that.
Finally, we get to yesterday afternoon against the Toronto Raptors. The first half was an utter disgrace and they should be ashamed of themselves. Toronto had a lead of 29 at one point and all hope seemed lost. Crazily enough, an amazing thing happened – the team started to actually play with some semblance of heart and pride. Somehow, with about seven minutes remaining in the contest, the Clippers found themselves only down by six points after Wesley Johnson nailed a corner three. Unfortunately, that was the closest they’d ever get. They were out of this game then got back into it before ultimately falling out of it again. That’s a frustrating thing to have happen. It’s almost as if false hope was granted. That’s the worst.
One might point to all those heartbreaks and say, "well, they’re not playing well but still have a chance to win those games." That wouldn’t be entirely false, either. The team has not played well. One could even argue that the two best games the team has played were against the Golden State Warriors. And, even then, you could argue that the team has played roughly five or six great quarters this season. The fact they even have six wins with that type of play is probably as close to a modern miracle as you’ll see. Except we’re not here for miracles. We’re here for facts. So far, the facts say this team is not good.
Currently, the team ranks 22nd in Defensive Efficiency. Since November 3rd, though, the Clippers have the worst Defensive Efficiency (108.8) in basketball. Yes, the worst. As in, dead last. They stink there. The rotations are horrid, the pick-and-roll defense is iffy, the weakside help is always late, and the rebounding required to end good defensive possessions is nonexistent. The Clippers also rank 27th in Opponent’s Offensive Rebound Rate. They’re giving up an offensive rebound a staggering 27.1 percent of the time. That’s not good, Bob. The team is also giving up 14.2 Second Chance Points Per 100 Possessions. That’s up by one full point from last season.
The team has played the third most "clutch" minutes in the league this season. Only the Orlando Magic (57) and Chicago Bulls (45) have played more than the Clippers’ 42 minutes. The Clippers currently sit 27th in Clutch Defensive Efficiency, with a 131.0 rating. And, yet again, they’re 27th in Opponent’s Rebounding Rate, with an absolutely horrid 34.1 percent mark. To say that the team has failed time and time again in those types of situations would actually be an understatement to what’s really happening right now. They struggle to close games. But, here’s the thing: it’s not on the offensive end.
It’s no secret that Doc Rivers loves Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce. It’s also no secret that those two are severely handicapping this team. The duo has played a combined 60 minutes in fourth quarter this season. The team sports a 127.0 Defensive Rating in those 60 minutes. To put it bluntly: they suck. In fact, Crawford by himself has a 119.1 Defensive Rating in the fourth quarter this season. And he leads the team, for some reason, with 108 minutes played in that frame. Everyone emphasizes the need to score down the stretch of close games, but few people astutely understand that you also have to stop the other team from doing the same. It’s not a one-way street. So far, it seems like the head coach is coaching like it is.
This also isn’t to bash the head coach, but it does seem wildly irresponsible to play your core four starters alongside Crawford for 22 minutes in the fourth quarter while doing the same thing with Lance Stephenson for a whopping one minute. It is understandable, though. Doc trusts Crawford far more than he trusts Stephenson. After all, that same Crawford with the other four main starters lineup logged 101 fourth quarter minutes last season and produced a +16.2 Net Rating. However, two years ago it logged 34 minutes and produced a -10.5 Net Rating. This season, it’s a -24.1 Net Rating in those 22 minutes. Needless to say, it’s not going well. And, as noted, defense is why.
Suffice it to say, the team really can’t defend anymore. They lack the wherewithal to be above-average defenders in a lot of areas. We all know about Crawford’s limitations defensively, but even Chris Paul has looked inadequate on that end of the floor numerous times this season. Sure, the groin injury probably plays some part in that but he still hasn’t looked good. DeAndre Jordan has his moments, but he’s looked uninterested or out of sorts time and time again. He hunts for blocks on penetrating guards way too often, and it leads to offensive rebound chances for his man because of Jordan’s choice. Blake Griffin has been really good on defense this season, but the last few games have seen him get blown by repeatedly. Now, that’s probably because of his tweaked left knee but it’s still not ideal. Even J.J. Redick, as solid a team defender as there is in the league, has looked iffy at times.
Maybe this is all a byproduct of new players. Maybe this all sorts itself out in the next several weeks and some people look foolish for even showing signs of freaking out. But they’re still right to do so. Maybe freaking out is the right thing to do. You can’t keep walking into the same burning room and expecting the fire to magically be out by doing nothing. You actually have to bring a fire extinguisher to the blaze and snuff it out. As of right now, this team is not good. They don’t defend well, they don’t rebound well, they don’t box out well, they don’t shoot well, and they struggle for far too many stretches during a game. That’s a whole lot of issues for one team to sort through in the next several weeks. Yes, there is still roughly five months to go in the season, but the next couple weeks will tell you everything you need to know.
A team that shot 39.0 percent on uncontested threes last season is now shooting just 31.6 percent on them this year. Maybe that sorts itself out. Maybe it doesn’t. We’ll see. That’s also the downside to having just one or two shooters you really trust out there. J.J. Redick is the only player on the team shooting above 40 percent on uncontested threes, and even he’s at 41.2 percent. Jamal Crawford’s taken 26 contested threes while Redick’s taken 34 uncontested ones. Perhaps just taking better threes can turn this thing around. Then again, can’t change a zebra’s stripes.
At the end of the day, the team still possesses the talent to be a dangerous team in the playoffs. After all, just look at their two games against Golden State as evidence of that fact. Had the Clippers won those two games that they had double-digit fourth quarter leads in, the team would be 8-5 with the two best wins in basketball. That didn’t happen, though. The reality is that the team is 6-7 and is looking for any answers. They had an argument in the locker room after yesterday’s game in which Josh Smith yelled at an assistant coach. Maybe that’s what’s needed. Maybe people have to get mad before anything changes. You can’t just keep saying you’ll sort it out and have it magically work. Fans are angry. There’s anger in how they’ve played, anger in how they’ve looked, anger in how they’ve lost. Get angry. Get something. As of right now, the only thing they’re getting is losses. Bad teams lose. Right now, this is a bad team. It’s on them to fix it.
Panic, freak out, do whatever you have to do to fix the situation. Because, quite frankly, this is a team that is going nowhere fast. 13 of 82 games are done with. That’s 16 percent of the season. From now until December 16 is the time they have to make a move. They play a lot of average to subpar teams. At the end of that stretch, we’ll be able to fully ascertain whether or not the Clippers are just another one of those average teams. As of this second, that’s exactly what they are. It’s time to get down to brass tacks. Roll up your sleeves, get to work, and stop this foolishness. It’s now or never. Clock is ticking.