It's not been a good week for the Clippers (and certainly not for Clippers fans). After finally starting to get recognition for their good play and contender candidacy at the start of this week, they've been getting clobbered by what seems like a perfect storm for unanimous national derision. At this rate I may have to start trawling last year's Posting and Toasting archives to find the inspiration to craft truly beautiful and lamenting prose.
It feels like the Clippers are getting beaten up on excessively by media types, yet at the same time the near future feels dark almost to the point of no return. The crowd of frothing bloggerazi tripping over one another to lambast this team has never been bigger — you can't spend more than five seconds on Twitter without hearing someone scream about how the Clippers are entitled flopping overrated assholes who've never won diddly squat. My head hurts.
Let's talk about this game for a little bit. Once news of Blake Griffin's surgery broke, we knew this wasn't going to end well for the Clippers. No Griffin, no Redick, no bench, and the third game for the team in a span of less than 72 hours. It was competitive to start, as Spencer Hawes reclaimed the starting role that he had cherished so dearly for most of his NBA career. Hawes has openly admitted the unfamiliarity of coming off the bench is a huge factor in his down season, and he testified to that today, going for 9 in the opening quarter and 17 in the first half (which ties a season-high set all the way back in Game 3 vs. Sacramento). On the flip side, he only came up with 1 rebound and zero assists in 35 minutes.
You can see how playing with Chris Paul was a huge advantage for him; CP3 constantly found him off the pick-and-roll and gave him the ball in a position to make good plays. Contrast that with his usual running mate Jamal Crawford, who doesn't have the same court vision or selflessness. In this game there were more than a few occasions where Jamal had two players on him after a Hawes screen, but the ball never found its way back to the open man. His shooting slump continues
The Clippers led 26-22 near the end of the 1st quarter before the reserve units emerged in full force. Once that happened, ne'er-do-wells Reggie Jackson and Mitch McGary (playing his first extended meaningful minutes of the season) shot the ball as if a single miss would kill them — they finished a combined 14-15 for 34 points. The pair helped trigger a 12-0 run that catapulted the Thunder into a lead that would never be challenged.
Los Angeles held firm for most of the 1st half, keeping the deficit in a manageable 8-14 point range. Unfortunately, after halftime the Thunder came out guns firing. Russell Westbrook, who had historically struggled against the Clippers before last year, broke out of his first-half shooting slump and became the Westbrook who terrrorized this team last postseason. Misses were not on the menu for Oklahoma City that quarter, and whatever fell off the rim came under the five-second rule, with offensive boards galore. It was a 44-22 margin after three quarters and for much of the game the Thunder had more offensive rebounds than the Clips did total rebounds.
Yes, this was the second straight game giving up more than 120 (131 is the highest opponent score in the CP3 era), the third straight shellacking on national television, the fourth straight loss, and not quite yet the end of a hellacious 4-in-5 at the tail end of a NBA season-high eight-game road trip. It's not a good time to be a fan of a team that slid into the seventh seed following today's game, and within striking distance of the ninth. But as stated after the Raptors game, this team is not as bad as it looks — multiple factors are colliding simultaneously to create a drearier picture than reflects reality.
In addition to the schedule, the Clippers are still mired in a shooting slump, not having shot better than 36% from 3 since the Phoenix game before the road trip. And injuries are finally striking this team perhaps at the most difficult stretch of the season — Glen Davis joined the gang on sick leave after suffering back spasms in the second quarter. A team that already had highly publicized depth issues before recent events now has to come together and find a solution to the problems facing them before a brutal post-All-Star schedule threatens to swallow them whole and dump another lottery pick in the hands of the Eastern Conference.
As awful as that all sounds, I have faith that things will turn around shortly sooner or later. I've said it before and I won't back down now — the Clippers are making the Western Conference Finals this year. On to Dallas.