The Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Sacramento Kings tonight in a game in which they had no business even being competitive. Despite the absence of Blake Griffin (calf) and DeAndre Jordan (pneumonia) and a mediocre, foul-plagued night from Chris Paul (4-11 shooting in just 27 minutes) the Clippers had a wide-open Paul Pierce three-pointer to tie the game with 22 seconds left. Pierce's shot was just long, and the Kings made enough of their free throws to keep the Clippers at bay for the final seconds.
Thus ended the Clippers 10 game winning streak, a streak that never made much sense and seemed bound to end sooner rather than later. As well as the role players have played in the last few weeks, you just can't go into games night after night missing your top scorer and now also your top rebounder and rim protector and expect to win, even against non-elite teams. Yes, the Kings were another in a line of mostly sub-.500 teams, but no, this is not a bad team.
It would likely have been a different story had Paul not had one of his worst performances of the season. Beyond a trio of three balls, he was simply not able to get the ball in the basket. The mid-range jumper that is usually automatic was just not there tonight, and he even had four turnovers (more than one on crucial possessions) and only seven assists. No Griffin, no Jordan and a sub-par CP3 -- of course the Clippers are going to lose.
In fact I'm still trying to figure out how they were in the game at all, especially considering the way Sacramento reserves Darren Collison and Omri Casspi lit them up. Between them Collison and Casspi scored 34 points on 11 for 18 shooting including seven three pointers (five of six for Casspi). In fact Sacramento's three point shooting was a major key to the game. Averaging just over eight threes per game on the season, the Kings made 13, as many makes in 25 attempts as the Clippers made in 39.
The Clippers trailed the entire second half, with the Kings maintaining a lead somewhere between two and nine points -- the game always within reach, but never in hand. It must have been frustrating especially for Paul, watching his team hang around, hoping he would get a chance to make a difference, but not being able to get them over the top even when he finally got his chance.
There were some bright spots for the Clippers of course. J.J. Redick continues to shoot an incredible percentage from deep, making five of nine threes despite an obvious emphasis from the Sacramento defense to never leave his side.(His night was good enough to move him into the three point percentage league lead for the season at .485, now a couple of percentage points ahead of Kawhi Leonard.) Cole Aldrich went for 19 for the second game in a row as a starter and was vital in matching up with DeMarcus Cousins while the Clippers other bigs were out of action. Jamal Crawford continues to show signs of shaking off his seemingly season long slump. And even Josh Smith, pressed into service in the absence of Griffin and Jordan, played fairly well with seven rebounds in just 19 minutes. Smith won't be in the rotation with everyone healthy still, but I'm convinced that he could yet be important at some point this season, so it's good to see him producing when he's called upon.
The good news is that it's not as if this game exposed the Clippers in any way. It's likely that Jordan will be back in the lineup against the Houston Rockets Monday night, Griffin could be back during the ensuing road trip, and Paul isn't going to have many games like this one. The bad news is that the level of competition is about to kick up a notch, especially on the road trip, so even if they play much better, wins will be difficult to come by.
Ten straight was nice. Eleven would have been even nicer, but it wasn't meant to be. Now that the streak is over, it's time to get the team back to full strength and see what they can do against some good teams.