The Indiana Pacers extended their winning streak to six games with a 103-91 win over the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night. The Clippers lost J.J. Redick to a sprained ankle on the first play of the game, and his absence was painfully evident throughout. L.A. was already without Chris Paul, who sat out due to inflamed rib cartilage. Jamal Crawford was already likely to see a minutes escalation without CP3 in the lineup, but Redick's early departure led to Jamal playing a team-high 37 minutes. More on that later.
Very few Clippers played well in this one, but two that did were Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith. Stephenson was clearly amped to be playing against his former team, but, in a pleasantly surprising development, his energy level wasn't leading to forced shots and rushed turnovers. Instead, it was Lance that was keeping the Clippers afloat throughout the first half. Austin Rivers had to start in place of CP3, which meant Stephenson had to serve as the backup point guard. The quality of looks for the Clippers improved considerably once he entered the game, as he was finding open teammates and creating good shots for himself, as well. By halftime he had already scored 12 points, which was more than he had in any full game all season to this point.
Smith, as usual, was a source of energy off-the-bench that the team needed. He didn't shoot well (2-of-7), but he did a fine job of protecting the paint defensively and helping facilitate the offense. For some reason, though, he played only 17 minutes, and has topped 20 minutes in a game just once all year.
L.A. actually took a three point lead into the half, as the Pacers' offense stagnated for the majority of the second quarter. Indiana mustered just 18 points in the second, hitting only 4-of-16 from the field. Unfortunately, the Clips weren't much better, scoring just 21 on 6-of-16 shooting.
Somehow, though, the third quarter was even more ugly. This was a tightly-called game throughout, which meant free throws by the truckload on both sides. There were 18 fouls called in the third alone, along with 26 total free throw attempts. This was one of the areas in which the Pacers outclassed the Clippers. Each team shot 39 free throws. However, Indiana made 32 of them (82.1%), while the Clips hit only 25 (64.1%).
Blake Griffin endured an uncharacteristically poor all-around game. He finished with 19 points, four rebounds and six assists, though shot just 6-of-18 from the floor and 7-of-14 from the stripe. He didn't even grab a rebound until the 5:05 mark of the fourth. As for the offense, though, it's hard to blame him. The Clippers have zero spacing without either Chris Paul or J.J. Redick on the floor, and it was flat-out painful to watch in this game. They jacked 27 threes tonight, but hit only six, good for 22.2%. There was no reason for the Pacers to worry about the Clips' three-point threats, because there were none. Instead, they were able to send multiple defenders at Griffin, forcing him into taking tough shots and passing through non-existent lanes. L.A. shot just 38% for the game, which actually feels high considering how bad they looked in the second half. They could get nothing going.
On the other end, the Clippers had no answer for Paul George. George's torrid streak continued to the tune of 31 points, 10 boards, four assists and three steals in 41 minutes. He was seemingly able to slither through L.A.'s defense whenever he wanted to, and he and Rodney Stuckey combined to effectively put the Clips out to pasture with a 10-0 run early in the fourth. From then on out, an alarming number of Clipper possessions ended in an unforced turnover or a low-percentage Crawford hurl. Meanwhile, the Pacers were parading to the rim for easy buckets. Stuckey chimed-in with 18 points off-the-bench, most of which came on layups, as you can see below. It was far too easy for him:
OK, back to Jamal. It's not fun to continually pile-on to the same guy, but it's also hard to ignore the notion that he's a major reason for the Clippers' inauspicious start to the season. He made just one of his eight three-point tries and finished a -10 in the aforementioned 37 minutes. For how bad he was on offense, he was even worse on defense. In spite of it all, though, he continues to play huge minutes! And that, once again, falls at the feet of Doc Rivers.
Stephenson played what was easily his best game as a Clipper, yet he found himself glued to the bench during crucial possessions in the fourth quarter, while Crawford was out there doing nothing of substance. After the game, Doc was asked about Lance's quality performance. He admitted that Stephenson played well offensively, but added that he needs to be better on defense. It's the exact same thing he said about Wesley Johnson following Johnson's positive debut as a starter against Denver last week.
All the while, Crawford is out there being skewered on defense and playing miserably on offense. At this point, Jamal's entire offensive game is predicated on either drawing a dubious whistle or hitting a miracle three. Even Kobe Bryant must look at Jamal's shot selection like:
Rather than making actual tactical adjustments and holding those accountable that need to be held accountable, Doc continues to stick with faulty rotations and blame the wrong guys afterward. The odds of beating a quality opponent like the Pacers without your starting backcourt were always going to be long, but this was a winnable game after three quarters. Rather than riding the players that were actually keeping them in the game, Doc went back to the well. The Clipper five for the majority of the fourth was Griffin, Jordan, Mbah a Moute, Crawford and Rivers. Again, who here is supposed to space the floor? Do we even need to mention that Wesley Johnson played just nine minutes? He was a +2, by the way. The only other Clipper with a positive +/- was Redick, who played one possession. Paul Pierce, Luc Mbah a Moute and Pablo Prigioni also combined for 48 of the most nondescript minutes you'll ever see.
Once again, the Clippers are left with more questions than answers following a frustrating defeat. Rivers said that he expects Paul to miss at least the next two games, while Redick's status was more unclear. J.J. did come out at the half to warm-up to try and test the ankle, but obviously didn't feel good enough to give it a go. Here's hoping he'll be back when the Clippers (10-9) take the court again Saturday agains the Magic.