Even before the Mozgov jumpers and Swaggy corner threes and JJ’s gimpiness, tonight felt like a losing proposition for the Clippers. When it was announced that Chris Paul wouldn’t play for the second consecutive game (and likely won’t tomorrow against Denver), we knew there was a good chance the streak of 11-consecutive victories over the Lakers was in jeopardy. It wasn’t a streak we were obsessed with—we’d happily trade half of those victories for just one win over the Warriors. But it was a streak we nevertheless appreciated, especially because we got to see it extended multiple times on Christmas Day in front of Laker friends and family. No, Uncle Rob, we’re not putting in the “Shaq-Kobe 2002 DVD” after prime rib—we’re watching Blake and DJ catch lobs for 20 minutes and then I’m going to start subtweeting Kobe fans again.
But even with the Lakers losing 12 of their last 13, there’s only so much a team can do without it’s two best players on the court. The Clippers’ starting five of Ray Felton, JJ Redick, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Paul Pierce and DeAndre Jordan played reasonably well in the first half. Despite the inherent offensive limitations of a Paul and Griffin-less lineup (and mostly because of the defensive limitations of a Lakers team that really doesn’t try on that end of the floor), the Clippers posted 58 at the half and clearly looked like the better, although not necessarily more talented team. With a surprising amount of space around him, JJ Redick scored 19 in the first half, including 3 of 6 from deep. In yet another admirable performance in the absence of Chris Paul, Raymond Felton went full Russell Westbrook (or perhaps Russell is going full Felton?) and posted 8 points, 7 boards and 6 assists. Sloppy play at the end of the half cut an 11-point lead to three, but the general feeling heading into the third quarter was that the underhanded but experienced Clippers would pull away from a team that just doesn’t play defense.
Instead, the wheels fell off. Completely. That’s putting it lightly—whatever seppuku the Timberwolves practice in their third quarters, imagine it on a much larger scale. The other L.A. team jumped out to an 11-0 run to start the quarter, led by Timofey Mozgov’s surprisingly feathery midrange game and exacerbated by multiple Clipper turnovers. Mozgov scored 12 in the quarter, while DeAndre Jordan basically disappeared. By the end of the third, the Lakers had turned a 3 point deficit into a 15 point lead—one they would never relinquish.
But the real story of the third quarter wasn’t Mozgov’s revenge fantasy come to life. It was the fact that early in the fourth, we learned that JJ had aggravated a sore left hamstring the previous quarter. The latest from JJ is that it “could be a day, could be seven”, and he’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow. For the Clipper curse fatalists out there, overreaction was hard to avoid—three of the core four injured, two with hamstring issues that are notoriously tricky. For those of us who so badly wanted to see the roster healthy for a full season, especially after being titillated by that 13-2 start, the news was just...not devastating, but a pretty big fucking bummer.
Now the Clippers will face the prospect of trying to maintain a good seeding and home-court advantage in the playoffs while Chris, JJ and Blake all recover from injuries. We could be lucky—Chris and JJ’s hamstring woes could be short-lived and not susceptible to aggravation. Blake could come back in the earlier part of his return timetable.
But regardless, Doc will now have tough choices to make in balancing the health of his aging core against the need for wins in a loaded West. We saw last year, it’s possible for the team to overcome Blake’s prolonged absence. But that’s contingent on a healthy Chris AND a healthy JJ. Losses to the bottom-dwelling Mavericks and Lakers prove that without them, we’re in deep trouble.
Ray-Ray and Mr. Bass: While fatigue seemed to slow him in the second half, Raymond Felton still deserves credit for a decent Chris Paul impression, all things considering. Ray-Ray finished with 8 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists, and ran the high pick-and-roll with DJ with a comfortable fluidity. Brandon Bass also had a decent game in much more limited time, with a couple emphatic “boy, get out my way” dunks that would make Blake jealous.
- JJ: Before the injury, he carried the offense. He’s really good at shooting. Like, really, really good.
- DJ: Started off hot with 7 points and 5 assists in the first half, and then disappeared completely in the second. Played only 27 minutes, and not because of foul trouble. Felt like a game where either there’s something physically wrong that we don’t know about or he wasn’t simply super engaged. But that’s pure speculation.
- Austin: Has a chance to prove to a national TV audience how much he had grown as a player. Didn’t. In fairness though, he kind of proved it in the postseason multiple times.
- My Reaction When the JJ News Came Out: “I give up on sports.”