The Los Angeles Clippers have enjoyed plenty of success this season against the dregs of the NBA this season, but it's never easy. They seem to enjoy very few blowouts, instead making games they should win easily much harder than they have to be. This has never been more evident than it was Sunday afternoon, where LAC fell at the hands of the normally-hapless New Orleans Pelicans 109-105.
The Pels were playing without Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Norris Cole, Tyreke Evans, Quincy Pondexter and Eric Gordon yet thoroughly outplayed L.A. for the majority of the afternoon.
As seems to be the case more often than not, the Clippers were buoyed by a combined 19 first quarter points from J.J. Redick and Chris Paul. The shorthanded Pelicans were hanging tough, though, and then both teams hit the offensive skids. Over the final four minutes of the frame, the Clippers and Pelicans combined to make a grand total of zero shots from the floor. It wasn't pretty. After one, LAC held a 24-21 advantage.
Pablo Prigioni, after playing just a minute last night in Memphis, quickly ended the drought early in the second with a longball. Unfortunately, the ugly play on both sides continued. The Clips' second unit was playing with absolutely zero energy, which was helping keep New Orleans in the game.
A Kendrick Perkins 17-foot jumper (?!?!?!) put the Pels up 38-35, and things were starting to get annoying from a Clips perspective. If Perk drilling midrange shots isn't enough of a wake-up call, nothing is. The teams were trading baskets and misses on either end with a seemingly endless barrage of fouls in between. A Babbitt three-pointer on a second chance opportunity was canceled out by an incredible triple from Redick rolling to his left late in the period. A layup from Jrue Holiday just ahead of the buzzer brought New Orleans back to within just two at 56-54.
Redick and Paul combined for 34 of LAC's 56 points over the first 24 minutes. LAC's starting backcourt shot a sizzling 10-for-14. The rest of the team? Just 10-of-29. DeAndre Jordan wasn't much of a factor, finishing the half with a whopping two points and four rebounds.
A short hook shot from Omer Asik (!?!?!?) followed by a Holiday three put the Pelicans up 63-56. With the offense flatlining, Doc Rivers put Jamal Crawford and Wesley Johnson into the game early ahead of the seven-minute mark. Johnson promptly bricked a three - the sixth straight shot from the Clippers from deep, all misses - but LAC's long scoreless streak ended with a free throw from Crawford at 6:46. This was L.A.'s first point of the half. Fun!
Nothing was working offensively. New Orleans was shutting down both ends of the Jordan pick-and-roll, which forced the L.A. offense to scramble into low percentage looks. Even the good looks they were getting, such as back-to-back CP3 midrange jumpers on one possession, were clanging off the rim. The Clipper starters didn't even play huge minutes last night in Memphis, yet everyone looked completely gassed.
Crawford missed a floater, which was the Clippers' 10th straight miss to open the third. Paul finally ended the streak with a teardrop on the next possession, giving LAC their first bucket of the quarter over seven minutes in. Another bricked three from Johnson led to a Toney Douglas layup as he beat every Clipper down the floor, and suddenly the Pelicans were up 11.
With the starters stinking up the Smoothie King Center, Rivers deployed a lineup consisting entirely of reserves. An and-one following a steal and the team's first converted three-pointer of the half - both by Prigioni - seemed to finally give the Clippers a bit of a spark. The Pels started to lose a bit of offensive punch when Holiday and Asik finally sat, which kept the door propped open for the Clips. Austin Rivers scored four straight points against his former club, but another Johnson missed open three at the death of the third squandered L.A.'s chances to cut the deficit to three. Heading into the final 12 minutes, NOLA led 78-72.
The shots still weren't falling for the Clippers to start the fourth. They were taking a lot of threes, but plenty of them were open. They just weren't going down. As a result, the Pels' advantage swelled back to 10. Fortunately, the Clippers got the Pelicans into the penalty just after the nine-minute mark. They'd be shooting free throws the rest of the way, which was a blessing considering they weren't able to make a damn thing from anywhere outside the paint.
Tim Frazier converted an and-one to put New Orleans up 11 before Alvin Gentry opted to start hacking DeAndre Jordan. D.J. made them pay for this, hitting 4-of-6. This effectively threw the Pelicans' offensive rhythm out of wack, and they missed a shot and turned the ball over thrice during the time they were hacking on the other end. Two Redick foul shots helped the Clippers creep back to within five. New Orleans turned it over twice more before bringing Asik back into the game.
A Crawford floater and Rivers layup on the break made it 90-86, forcing a Gentry timeout. Afterward, though, the Pelicans got consecutive buckets at the rim by Gee and Asik as the Clippers once again missed a chance to make their move. Chris Paul and Austin Rivers missed four consecutive free throws, Douglas converted a floater and the Pels had themselves their biggest lead of the game at 13 with over three minutes to go.
In true Pelicans fashion, though, they tried to give the game away down-the-stretch. They committed a few more turnovers and Redick and CP3 each hit a three to inch the Clips a bit closer. Jamal canned a three with 49 seconds to go to make it 104-101 all of a sudden. Cunningham missed a three on the next trip and, suddenly, LAC had serious life. CP3 found D.J. on a beautiful pick-and-roll after a timeout, and Jordan was fouled as he dunked it home. Unfortunately, the FT was missed and Holiday hit two on the other end after a foul by Wes Johnson.
The Clips had a chance to knot things up at 108 on the final possession, but Rivers clanked an off-balance three-ball and that was that.
So, with a date with the Warriors in Oakland next up on the schedule, the Clippers face the real possibility of finishing this road trip 1-4. Back-to-back losses to two of the league's most shorthanded teams in Memphis and New Orleans is a new low. There's a pretty good chance this is the second most pathetic loss by an NBA team this season, behind only Golden State's inexplicable blowout defeat to the Lakers a couple of weeks ago.
DeAndre Jordan (12 points, 9 rebounds) was thoroughly outplayed on both ends by Omer Asik (season-high 15 points and 14 rebounds). Dante Cunningham (season-high 19 points along with 6 boards) was easily better than any forward for the Clippers. Redick and Paul each scored 24 points, but hardly anyone else could get anything going. Wesley Johnson was probably the worst player on the floor, and his night was summed up pretty well by his 0-for-8 (0-for-6 from three) performance.
Little-known Pels guard Tim Frazier enjoyed one of the finest games of his brief NBA career, finishing with 17 points and seven rebounds. Frazier is GENEROUSLY listed at 6'1", yet he got more rebounds than every Clipper not named DeAndre Jordan in this game. L.A. hoisted 39 threes in this one yet hit just 10 (25.6%). Shooting 40% from the floor didn't help matters. The Pelicans shot 21-for-32 on shots right around the rim, while L.A. went just 12-for-21. The Clips settled for jumpers that weren't falling, while the Pels were comfortable attacking the rim.
The Clippers (surprise!) were absolutely crushed on the boards by a 54-35 margin, and weren't able to fully capitalize on the Pels' whopping 23 turnovers. They rallied nicely toward the end, but they should've never been chasing the game to begin with. Just a pathetic performance all around from the Clippers.