After a brutal blowout on the road last night to the Cavaliers in Cleveland, the Clippers set sail for Toronto to play the cagey Raptors and their high-powered offense. For the first twelve minutes, things were going great. Then stuff happened. And it wasn't good stuff. It was bad stuff. The Raptors slowly and methodically caught up to the Clippers before passing them by and leaving them in the dust as the game wore on. It wasn't fun. But we do need to discuss it.
|Los Angeles Clippers||34||25||20||28||107|
In a surprise plot twist tonight, Austin Rivers got the starting nod at the shooting guard spot due to J.J. Redick's back spasms. Whether you want to credit his defensive intensity or not, the first quarter was ripe with great defense by the Clippers and it started on the perimeter. The team held the Toronto Raptors to 35.0 percent shooting. The team got off to a great start, going on a 15-2 run to kickoff the game and even got it up as high as 30-10 at one point. Raptors did a solid job of chipping the lead down to 34-19 at the end of the quarter. Blake Griffin got off to a fast start, pouring in ten early points, and Matt Barnes helped with nine points and four rebounds of his own. The monster in the middle, DeAndre Jordan, also had a good opening quarter with seven points and six rebounds. Chris Paul assisted like we know he can, racking up six dimes and two points while his backcourt mate this evening, Austin Rivers, had two steals.
Like recent hot takes against the Clippers, things got ugly once the first quarter ended. The starting of the younger Rivers allowed the elder Rivers to keep Jamal Crawford as the main gun off the bench. The problem was that the defense, which was so good in the opening twelve minutes, dissolved as the second quarter went along. Once Austin Rivers got subbed out at the 6:56 mark, the Raptors managed to go on a 14-6 run in just 3:30 of action. To say that's a bad thing would be an understatement. Credit Toronto, though. Their passing, which was nonexistent in the first quarter, was better in the second. They had ten assists in the second quarter after just two in the first. James Johnson's energy also provided a spark for Toronto, as did Lou Williams. The Clippers saw their once 20-point lead cut all the way down to just two at halftime. Blake Griffin had a great first half on the offensive end, with 19 points, 3 rebounds, and 6 assists. His defense was lazy. Barnes had nine points and five rebounds, Jordan had nine points and seven rebounds, Paul had 7-2-7-2, and Rivers only scored two points but did have an assist and three steals.
After giving up a 38-point quarter in the second, the Clippers decided that giving up 38 points in a quarter was better if you did it twice in the span of one game. The Raptors opened up the second half on a 23-6 run by the midway point of the quarter and never really looked back. But in one of the odd situations of the game, Kyle Lowry was rewarded two free throws by referee Ed Malloy when he had actually passed the ball on the play. The Raptors were not in the bonus and Lowry was not in the act of shooting. It was a pass. He still got two free throws and there was no justified reasoning as to why. That didn't shape the outcome of the game but it was noticeable. Toronto's run saw them get up as much as 16 points. Their run in the third quarter was fueled by Kyle Lowry (13 points on 4-for-4 shooting) and DeMar DeRozan (11 points thanks to 9-for-9 from the line). DeAndre Jordan left midway through the quarter with a stomach virus but came back in. However, his energy decline was noticeable. Due to the Clippers porous defense, the Raptors actually scored 85 points in the last 26:10.
The team came out trying hard early in the fourth quarter, even outscoring them 11-10 at one point after Blake Griffin's dazzling and-one conversion. With 8:59 to go, the team trailed by the score of 105-90. The 15-point deficit was the closest they'd get. The teams exchanged some threes and then Toronto held the Clippers at arm's length the rest of the way. Toronto, after the first quarter, outscored the Clippers 104 to 73. Toronto used a well-balanced gameplan after the opening quarter and basically took the Clippers out of their element. The Clippers helped, though, by not defending with the same intensity they started the game with and missing the open shots they had. It happens. Especially to a team coming to the end of a brutally long road trip and on the second night of a back-to-back.
If anyone actually reads my recaps, you'll know by now that I usually throw in a "Ten Tidbits" section here where I make comments about the game, players, and goings-on during the game. I'm not going to do that after this game. Instead, I'm going to combine the "Ten Tidbits" and "Conclusion" sections together and make it one gigantic segment of stuff that needs to be said about this team and what's going on right now.
Let's get some things out of the way early. This is the first three-game losing streak by the Los Angeles Clippers in the Doc Rivers Era. The Clippers didn't lose this game because of Austin Rivers making a spot-start in J.J. Redick's spot in the lineup. He actually played well, especially defensively. He was one of the main reasons the Clippers even had a 20-point lead at one point. The defense in the first quarter was phenomenal but Toronto did help out by not moving without the ball. Raptors finished with 25 assists but only had a pair in the first quarter. They recorded 23 over the final 36 minutes. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul seemed to be the only two Clippers who gave a damn, even after the first quarter. Griffin finished with 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 9 assists. Offensively, he was great. Defensively, he was hit-and-miss. Paul finished with 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 9 assists. He was good for the most part.
The other thing to talk about before we get into the real meat and potatoes portion is that you have to give credit to the other team in this game. Toronto didn't panic after a dismal first quarter. They started running their sets, got back into the game against the horrific bench defense, and then kept it going the rest of the way as the Clippers couldn't figure out how to stop them. They got great contributions out of nearly everyone. Kyle Lowry's third quarter propelled them, DeMar DeRozan's march to the free throw line sustained them, and James Johnson's minutes were invaluable as ever. Even Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez showed up, knocking down a combined seven threes. Their defense picked up but mainly their offense did the work. They stopped turning the ball over, moved more, and the Clippers couldn't get the mismatches in transition and secondary breaks like they did in the first quarter. Their final three quarters were some of the best basketball you'll ever see.
So here goes. Everyone needs to relax. I know it's a cliche and all that and people will think this is patting the team on the butt after getting it kicked in twice in two days but it is the truth. The team didn't get to be 33-18 through smoke and mirrors. They are a damn good team. They're also without J.J. Redick and dealing with a slumping Jamal Crawford during that stint. Crawford was 4-for-13 tonight and was largely a huge net negative because his defense isn't noteworthy. People will make a big deal out of this loss because, quite frankly, that's what bloggers and writers around the league are paid to do. They make a big deal about losses like this. But let's back up and take a look at this from an objective point of view.
The Los Angeles Clippers are 33-18 and, as of right now, are the 6-seed in the Western Conference. There's no telling where they'll finish in the seeding but they'll be in the playoffs barring massive injuries. The team was without Hedo Turkoglu tonight. Hedo's no world-beater but he has played solid basketball lately and the team has relied upon him for some minutes at the three spot. This was also the second game of a back-to-back and the sixth game in ten days with all but two of those games coming against good-to-great competition. Their next two games aren't easy, either. They play Oklahoma City early on Sunday afternoon. That likely won't go well due to the team's lack of rest and current play. After that, it's Dallas on the second game of a back-to-back. The Mavericks are without Rajon Rondo, which could help the Clippers. Their final game before the break is the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles but Houston's without Dwight Howard so they might get another break there.
The team just needs to get to the All-Star Break and get rested up. This is a daunting stretch for any team in the association. People like to chatter that San Antonio has a nine game road trip due to the rodeo and usually does well so the Clippers shouldn't complain about their Grammy Trip. The problem is that the Clippers play so many games in such a short span. And, this year, they're all against good teams for the most part. If anyone believes this team isn't good, then I don't know what to tell you. Teams have down stretches, down games, and down performances. Cleveland looked super scary during their recent stretch, including last night, but then lost tonight in Indiana. Memphis just lost on the road to Minnesota as I was typing this. There's a fundamental issue here that people expect the team to win every game. It doesn't work like that. Great, or even good, performances don't happen all the time, either. Golden State's 3-3 in their last six games, including a double-digit loss on the road in Utah. Losses happen. Even multiple painful ones in a row.
As a wise man once said: "Hard work pays off, dreams come true; bad times don't last, but bad guys do." Maybe, just maybe, the Clippers need to channel their inner bad guy and continue to work hard together as a unit to achieve what they want to achieve. The rest of the league already hates them. So give the league a reason to hate them even more. The sky really is the limit. However, if they don't show signs of life sometime over the next several weeks, then people can really start to wonder if the limit is the sky. All that I'm saying is that it's way too soon, especially with this road trip being as daunting as it is, to worry about their mental fortitude and basketball prowess. Back off the ledge. It isn't that bad. The bad times were about five years ago. Some might have forgotten that.