The Clippers were horrid at their job of basketball tonight, as they were demolished by the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Playing without superstar Paul George, the Pacers simply beat the Clippers down, playing harder and sharper on both sides of the ball. Or, to be more precise, the Clippers showed no interest in beating Indiana, who happily accepted this and took their win. Instead of going through a “game flow” type summary, I will instead talk about what the Clippers did wrong, since that might actually make me less angry. Not one player deserves commendation for today’s effort, so I won’t even single them out. Yes, they were that bad.
For the second game in a row, the Clippers couldn’t have thrown a rock into water even if they were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Barely scratching 30% shooting from the field, the Clips’ lone source of offense seemingly came from trips to the free throw line, where they were a terrific 22-27. While the Clippers did miss a ton of open looks, they kept taking jumpers that clearly weren’t falling instead of attacking the foul-prone Pacers in the paint. Not a single player shot the ball well, and while there are nights where that happens, great teams find other ways to win. The Clippers failed at all of them.
The Clippers were out-rebounded 52-40 in this one, which isn’t surprising because they collectively couldn’t hit a shot to save their lives. Part of that 52-40, though, was a 13-6 dominant performance on the offensive boards by Indiana. That isn’t acceptable because the Clippers are big and athletic— a team with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin should rarely get beaten that badly on the glass. Rebounding has a lot to do with effort anyway, and tonight was a clear example why. Nobody on the Clips outside of their three big men got more than four rebounds. Exclude Chris Paul, and nobody got more than two. That’s unacceptable, especially since guys like Rodney Stuckey and Aaron Brooks got offensive boards that turned into big baskets for the Pacers. The Clippers didn’t box out, didn’t attack the glass on the other end, and just seemed to be disinterested at the prospect of getting rebounds in general. Honestly, it felt like the Pacers out-rebounded the Clippers by way more than 12.
Turnovers are never a good thing, and tonight, the Clippers majored in turnovers. Every rotation player outside of Raymond Felton turned the ball over, and four players had three or more giveaways. As a team, the magic number tonight was 20, which is exceptionally high. Even worse, most of the turnovers tonight weren’t even in the service of trying to make the right pass or play—they were just careless surrenders of the ball. To counter those turnovers they had a mere 11 assists. Part of that was just missing shots, but the ball movement was awful, and the offense was completely disjointed. The Clippers never got into a rhythm, never seemed like they had even played basketball with each other before. It was disappointing, especially against a middling Pacers defense missing their stud defensive player. The Clippers are a team that thrives on it’s superior passing and ability to take care of the basketball. Those skills were nowhere to be seen tonight.
Yes, the Pacers only scored 91 points. Most nights, holding teams to 91 points means a victory. But not tonight. Great teams lock down on defense when the offense is sputtering: it’s the only way to win. The Clippers of two weeks ago might have won this game by holding the Pacers to even less than 70 points. But not tonight. They didn’t pressure the Pacers, didn’t force an abundance of turnovers, and failed to make getting into sets difficult. DeAndre Jordan and other big men watched as Myles Turner and Al Jefferson lofted endless uncontested midrange jumpers that inevitably fell. Jeff Teague, Stuckey, and Brooks waltzed into the paint time and again to score or pass out to open shooters, and the Clippers were never able to stop them. It was a lazy, unfocused effort, and there was really no excuse for it. The Pacers aren’t an offensive juggernaut even with George. Without him. the Clippers should have been licking their chops. But not tonight.
Tip of the Hat:
The Pacers stepped up their game without Paul George. I wouldn’t say that they played great basketball, but they certainly played hard, and they played like a team. Tonight, that was easily enough. And it’s enough on many nights—there are always going to be teams during the course of a long 82 game season that don’t show up, and tonight, that team was the Clippers. Kudos to the Pacers, who could have written this one off as a loss, but came to play instead, and were rewarded for it with a win. Shout out in particular to Al Jefferson, who had a bigger night in terms of momentum changing shots than his pure numbers would show.
The Clippers just played their worst game (by the simple metric of “points scored”) in the Chris Paul era. The good news: it can probably only get better from here. The bad news: can it? The rose has officially lost its luster, and the opening three weeks of the season might seem like a mirage to particularly pessimistic Clippers fans. Now, I still think this team is good. In fact, I believe this team is great. But they aren’t playing like it right now, and that starts with their star players. Chris Paul was the leading MVP candidate through the beginning of the season, and deservedly so. By contrast, the past two games might be the worst stretch of that sample size in his career. While nobody else has under-performed to as great an extent as CP, the bench seems to be wearing down as well. I don’t think many people expected them to be as great as they were over the first few weeks of the season, and even fewer thought they could keep it up all year. But they have been quite bad over the past handful of games, and we now know that they are better than that. This team as a whole is better than that. Doc was clearly furious tonight, and I am confident that we will see a different Clippers squad on Tuesday in Brooklyn. Here’s hoping, anyhow.