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Clippers Fall to Pacers 109-104, A Severe Blow to Playoff Hopes

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It was a bad night for the Clippers, as their loss combined with several Western Conference competitors’ wins pushes them almost out of reasonable reach for a playoff spot.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Game Summary:

The game started well, with the Clippers moving the ball on offense and putting forth effort on defense. They jumped out to a quick seven point lead, looking just as comfortable as they did against the Bucks on Wednesday. The lead was short lived, as the Pacers swiftly countered with a run of their own, powered by Bojan Bogdanovic. The contest was close heading into the second as the reserves checked in, and the seesaw battle continued throughout the period. Neither team was able to gain a sizable advantage, mostly due to a lack of defense played.

The third quarter started off with a massive Pacers run, as they forced the Clippers’ into stagnant offense and bad shots. The Pacers, on the other hand, began to cook, as Oladipo scored eight points after missing all his shots in the first half. Doc Rivers called a timeout, saw what the Clippers were running on offense, and immediately called another one just to scream at his team. The Clippers were behind 18 when Sindarius Thornwell and Lou Williams checked into the game, and they immediately turned things around. Thornwell grabbed several contested rebounds, while Lou Williams made plays for others and pushed the pace. Together they brought the Clippers back to within six going into the final quarter. The start of the 4th was immensely promising, as the Lou-Montrezl Harrell combination worked the magic they have all season, pouring in bucket after bucket on the pick and roll. The Clippers at one point led by two, but no more than that, and the Pacers refused to go away. The Clippers had the lead at 102-100 after a beastly Harrell offensive rebound and putback. After that, they let the Pacers score on the next four possessions while turning the ball over on all three of their own, and thus the game was lost. The Clippers made unforced errors, as they have so frequently in recent weeks, and it cost them.

Notes:

  • Turnovers: At this point, the Clippers’ recent spate of turnovers seems more like a negative feature of the roster instead of a short-term issue due to fatigue. The Clippers just can’t stopping giving the ball away, and far too many of the turnovers are completely unforced by their opponents. Milos Teodosic and Lou Williams are both turnover-prone ball-handlers, and DeAndre’s increased playmaking duties this season has led to his turnovers soaring as well. The real issue is that the Clippers lack a true “go-to” point guard: Lou and Austin are both combo guards, and Milos’ inability to create shots on a consistent basis for others limits his vision and passing abilities. Really, the closest thing to an overall point guard who can play at both ends that the Clippers have is Jawun Evans, but his lack of shooting and propensity towards fouling means he can’t play big minutes (yet). Pat Beverley would have been a godsend the past few weeks, not just on defense, but on the offensive end as well.
  • Offensive Rebounds: Giving up offensive boards is another issue that has plagued the Clippers for months now, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Certainly, it cost them heavily tonight, as the Pacers brought in an incredible 14 offensive rebounds to the Clippers’ 6. Again, this problem seems to be inherent to the roster and rotation that Doc Rivers has at his disposal right now. Lou, Milos, and Austin are all below-average rebounders for guards. Sam Dekker and Wes Johnson (he gave up several bad ones tonight to Thad Young) are average at best for wings, and Harrell’s lack of size hurts him on the defensive glass. Really, the rebounding all falls on DeAndre Jordan, and while he’s been magnificent on the glass most of the season, he can’t do everything. Tobias Harris has mostly been quite good on the defensive glass as well, but tonight he came up short, grabbing only three in 39 minutes. Patrick Beverley is a phenomenal rebounder for a guard—just another way he could have helped out the Clippers.
  • Lou Back: Lou Williams’ shot looked off for several weeks, as his three-point percentages plummeted, and even his usually rock-steady free throw shooting took a hit. Lou has now hit multiple three-pointers in three of his last four games, however, and in that time is 20-20 from the free throw line. That surge also corresponded to his return to the bench—he will probably finish the season coming off the pine. He was also passing and playmaking tonight better than he has in weeks, dishing out 10 assists and controlling the game offensively for the Clippers when they made their run in the 2nd half. He did have a very costly turnover (one of those three at the end of the game), yet that wasn’t enough to offset what was a magnificent performance.
  • Reinforcements: The Agua Caliente Clippers’ season ends tomorrow, which will make both Tyrone Wallace and CJ Williams eligible to be called up by the Clippers once more. Wallace in particular seems like a surety to return to the roster for the rest of the regular season, and not a moment too soon. Wes Johnson was dreadful tonight, Sam Dekker was up and down as always, and Sindarius played well but was limited by his fouling ways. Tyrone would probably receive most of the minutes from those guys and would certainly be an upgrade on all of them. In addition, Danilo Gallinari is expected to return soon.
  • Too Late: Unfortunately, however, the cavalry might be arriving too late. The Clippers’ loss tonight combined with a Denver win, a Minnesota win, and one of a Utah/San Antonio win (they are playing each other) is a miserable night for the Clippers’ playoff hopes. They are now a game and a half behind the Nuggets for the 9th seed, and are three losses back of the 8th seeded Wolves and Jazz (though they might only be two behind Utah if they lose tonight). With 10 games left on the schedule, and only one of them an almost certain win (against Phoenix), the Clippers’ playoff hopes finally appear to be dashed. They aren’t going to give up, but it would take a lot of luck for them to sneak in after tonight.