“This is humiliating. It is absolutely embarrassing.” — Ralph Lawler [4th, 0:59.2]
With Devin Harris and Courtney Lee not suited up for New Jersey, the Nets have precious few places to go in the halfcourt. Brook Lopez on the block provides the Nets with a viable option, but there’s little else on the floor provided the Clippers do a reasonably good job depriving shooters of clean looks. Since the Nets have few offensive weapons who warrant auxiliary attention by help defenders, a passable defensive effort by the Clippers should get the job done.
The Clippers’ rotations and decision-making defensively are atrocious from the outset, which is how Kris Humphries gets what’s essentially an open foul shot at [1st, 3:39, Craig Smith/Baron Davis], and why Chris Quinn gets a wide open look from beyond the arc at [2nd, 8:32, Al Thornton], and why Yi Jianlian gets an uncontested jumper from 18 feet [2nd, 5:35, Craig Smith].
The Clippers do a marginally better job patrolling the perimeter in the second half, but they completely neglect the interior and get lazy in transition. The ugliest example of the Clippers abandoning the paint comes with the Clippers trailing by four points, with under 9:00 remaining in the game. What happens to Craig Smith on this possession?
Once Smith commits to the trap on Quinn and Ricky Davis rotates over onto Yi, Smith’s original assignment, he’s responsible for cutting off the drive by Williams.
So far as the lackadaisical transition defense, here’s some incriminating evidence:
You can appreciate Smith’s instincts to get in front of the ballhandler, but (a) Bobby Brown has recovered (b) he needs to shade to the side of the floor where his man, Kris Humphries, is filling the lane.
Offensively, the Clippers muster only 87 points on 93 possessions against one of the worst teams in the NBA’s recent history. They waste about 20 percent of those possessions on turnovers. A wasted possession is a wasted possession, but there are nights when the cringe factor of those miscues is spectacular:
There are turnovers, then there are the kinds of plays that kill a team’s spirit. Watch Rasual Butler on this possession. He’s at the bottom of the frame — and he’s wide, wide open beyond the arc. Kaman sees him but still opts for the semi-contested jumper.
Which shot do you suppose has the higher effective FG percentage? Butler, who has an eFG of 50 percent as a 3-point shooter (and who’s wide open) or Kaman who has an eFG percentage of 40.8 as a jump-shooter (and has a moderately contested look here). If you want to understand why a team ranks in the bottom third of the league in offensive efficiency, this is Exhibit A.
Virtually every member of the team plays to his weaknesses. Baron Davis shows shades of 2008-09. He takes seven of his 10 shots from outside the paint, converting only one of those attempts, before leaving with a sore knee toward the end of the third period. The two might very well be related. Craig Smith has an efficient game offensively. He scores 18 points (6-for-8 from the field) and collects eight rebounds, but is dreadful from the stripe (6-12 FTAs) and hurts the team defensively. He commits five fouls and is rarely where he’d be most useful in the defense. Those hopes that Gordon will evolve into a playmaking 2? They seem awfully remote tonight. Butler misses seven of nine from long range and doesn’t give the Clippers much else. Apart from Smith — who’s a virtual starter after Marcus Camby departs with bruised ribs seven minutes into the game — the bench contributes little. The team shoots a collective 64.3 percent from the stripe and gets outhustled on seemingly every loose ball.
The short end of a hard-fought squeaker can cost you sleep, but the symbolic nature of a loss to a 3-40 team is impossible to swallow. The Clippers’ incompetence inspires a team that had previously been uninspirable.