The Clippers continue to prove they have nothing to prove. Just read any post-game interviews with them to see their defeatist attitude. “We’re just not finishing games anymore.” said Chris Paul after Friday night’s loss to Portland. They have now lost 6 of their last 8 (half at home!) and are looking at a .500 record.
So what is going on? Their lack of depth and inability to finish in the fourth quarter are the biggest outstanding problems. Let’s break down these problems by taking a look at a quintessential Clippers’ choke, Thursday (11/19) night’s loss to the Golden State Warriors. As is tradition, the Clippers dominated the first half. Chris Paul came out hot and hit 18 perfect points in the first quarter setting a season record. The rest of the Clips shot 71% from the field and you could see the success in their body language. They moved fast, they shot well, they ran the floor and the Warriors couldn’t keep up. They had an enormous lead (23 points) at the half over the reigning champs.
But the Clippers also have a tradition for blowing enormous leads. Of course it never helps to play Steph Curry who dropped 40 points. All of a sudden it was a single digit lead heading into the fourth, then the lead was gone, and then the Clippers completely collapsed on the floor. But the numbers don’t necessarily show where they flubbed it. They had more points off the fast-break and in the paint than Golden State. They gave up only 11 turnovers to Golden State’s 18 and gained 19 more points off of Golden State’s mistakes. But they did get out-rebounded, out-assisted, and outshot by the best team in the West. Even with Griffin and Paul combining for 62 points the Clippers couldn’t hold the lead. The other three starters (DeAndre Jordan, Paul Pierce, and Jamal Crawford) only combined for 30 and the bench failed once again with just 25.
True, starting guard J.J. Redick was out but he returned in Friday’s loss to Portland (where he only created 7 points out of 17 attempts). His replacement in the matchup against the Warriors, Jamal Crawford, wasn’t bad with 15 points but shot 1-7 from downtown. The real problem was with at Small Forward. Paul Pierce started against the Warriors where he completely failed as a match up for Draymond Green. What is Doc Rivers thinking giving a museum piece like Pierce 32 minutes to produce six measly points? Even Josh Smith produced more with less (eight points in 18 minutes).
This discussion about Smith and Pierce manifests the biggest hole in the Clippers’ lineup: the Forward. Doc cycles between Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce, and Josh Smith as starters at the 3. On Friday, Stephenson started and only created two points in 19 minutes. Smith had two points in 17 minutes off the bench. Pierce didn’t even play.
To be fair, it isn’t just at the 3 that the Clippers lack game. The 2 is equally as problematic since Austin Rivers, that eternal thorn in my side, had 26 minutes against Golden State (CP3 only had six more) and 22 minutes in Friday’s loss to Portland. That’s 48 minutes that someone better isn’t on the floor. Or as my esteemed colleague, Yama Yazheer, wrote in an article this week: “The Clippers couldn’t defend, Doc Rivers played his son almost as much as the team’s franchise point guard, and they lost composure, per usual.”
So, Doc, what’s the cure for the current malaise that has overcome the Clippers? Either a trade or an acquisition of another forward who can fill the hole that Griffin leaves when he’s off the court. Whatever it is, someone needs to figure it out quick. Otherwise, and I write this with terror, Philadelphia’s best chance to break their historic losing streak is in early January when they meet up with the Clippers.