An effort like this is collective, but sometimes an extra burden has to fall on a team’s leader to set the tone. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin out, there’s no doubt that DeAndre Jordan should be that guy.
Sure, other guys are important. Raymond Felton is running the offense, Austin Rivers is the team’s go-to perimeter scorer, and Jamal Crawford is who LAC typically turns to when they’re missing star power. J.J. Redick is the fourth member of the “Core Four”, and the Clippers’ third-leading scorer. But Jordan is a maximum salary, All-NBA 1st Team Center—a guy who almost left the team to be the centerpiece in Dallas, a guy who wants to be an All-Star, a guy who has on several occasions wanted a larger role in the offense. So tonight, it’s pretty disappointing to see him quit on his team, and make no mistake, that’s exactly what happened.
In the third quarter, with the Clippers on the wrong end of a big run, a frustrated Jordan settled into his defensive stance with 3 fouls. A fourth would likely send him to the bench—so he intentionally wrapped up Nikola Jokic. Then, when Doc Rivers opted to keep Jordan in the game, he delivered a blatant two-handed shove for an offensive foul that put his total at five. Still staying in the game, he threw a cheap shot on a dead ball—the kind of childish reaction and dirty play that’s embarrassing for Jordan and the organization alike.
It should be noted that the tweet is wrong—that wasn’t DJ’s 5th foul, which came a couple possessions beforehand as he shoved off. Since it was a dead ball, it was a technical.
Jordan didn’t return to the game after that incident.
The Clippers’ problems extended well beyond DeAndre’s composure and the aspects of the team’s play that are within his control, but that’s a good indicator of how the night went for the Clippers as a whole, and an especially embarrassing moment in a frustrating stretch for Jordan.
Even for the Clippers who kept their heads on straight, it was an awful night. Austin Rivers only played 6 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, and most of his production came in the second half when the game had long been decided. J.J. Redick, after an early spurt, went cold and disappeared. Raymond Felton shot just 6-17 from the field and wasn’t able to keep the Clippers’ offense flowing. Jamal Crawford was an abysmal 3-13 from the field (though two of those attempts shouldn’t count—he was twice thrown the ball for a 40-footer to beat the shot clock). Seeing his team struggle, Doc Rivers turned to Alan Anderson—who shot 1-6 from the field in 11 minutes and failed to record a single stat other than his 5 points.
As a team, the Clippers allowed 123 points to the mediocre Nuggets, and scored just 98 points against the NBA’s worst defensive squad. They were outrebounded by double-digits and frankly, it felt like more. They were unable to defend without fouling, and they shot just 31% from beyond the arc.
It seems inappropriate to discuss the playoff picture after a performance like tonight’s, but the Clippers still have seeding to worry about whenever they get back to full strength. The Houston Rockets won tonight, but some recent stumbles have the Clippers just 3 games back in the loss column despite these last two losses. On the other side, however, the Utah Jazz’s victory against Indiana tonight has pulled them into a tie with L.A. at 29-16.
The Clippers are moving on with their 5-game road trip, playing games 2 and 3 in a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back in Atlanta and Philadelphia. Blake Griffin is expected to return to the lineup for one of those games, which could prove crucial for a team that has to play the Warriors twice in their next five games.