When is losing better than winning?
The obvious answer has something to do with extra lottery balls, but let’s ignore that aspect (for now). Sometimes winning can complicate things where losing won’t. A loss is just a loss, and a defeat to the Hawks is to be expected given the circumstances. But a win? A win tonight would have made an even bigger scapegoat out of Baron Davis, who sat out with a sore back. A win tonight would have slightly dinged whatever trade value Baron has left. A win tonight would have required us to put at least a little hope back into the season, in Steve Blake, and in Kim Hughes among others. Does any actual good come from that scenario? Was Red right the first time? Is hope really a dangerous thing after all?
For a bit the Clippers threatened to complicate things by winning. Despite the turnover discrepancy and Atlanta’s dominance in the paint (70-38), the Clippers were only down 6 points going into the fourth quarter, 81-75. Not unlike the last time these two teams met, Atlanta turned it on in the fourth quarter and stepped up their intensity when it mattered most. The Clippers’ shot selection to start the fourth quarter looked like this:
- 22-foot missed jumper by Bobby Brown [11:40], 25-foot missed three-point attempt by Rasual Butler [10:56], Chris Kaman made two point shot [10:08], 28-foot missed three-point attempt by Steve Novak [9:30], 15-foot jumper missed by Chris Kaman [9:07], Craig Smith traveling [8:38], Craig Smith turnover [8:18], Chris Kaman Technical Foul [7:39].
In a little less than 5 minutes of game time, the above stretch put the Clippers behind 18 points. The results shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Bobby Brown is primarily a jump shooter, Steve Novak is strictly a jump shooter, Rasual Butler sticks to the outside and Chris Kaman in the 4th quarter is always primed to shoot more jumpers than anything else. Eventually you have to consider that it’s not the coaching, the scheme, or the execution, but instead it’s the personnel. The Clippers have a lot of guys in love with their jumper on the roster and they don’t have anyone who can consistently penetrate and get to the rim. Until that changes (and it will eventually), these types of quarters are bound to keep happening.
All in all the Clippers don’t play poorly on the offensive end. They shoot 50.7% from the field and do a decent job getting clean looks for Rasual Butler in particular. Steve Blake dishes out 9 assists to 3 turnovers, which is pretty impressive considering he has yet to practice with the team. Maybe the most admirable contrast between Blake and Baron is that Blake gets the Clippers into their sets almost immediately with little to no senseless dribbling. Blake can’t hit anything tonight (1 for 6 from the field), but the moderation on his shot attempts is a breath of fresh air. There are things Blake will never be able to do as well as Baron, but at least Blake is mostly aware of his limitations. He’s not the first player to have a successful NBA career built off a keen sense of self-awareness.
It’s strange to say this but the Clippers miss Al Thornton quite a bit tonight. I’ve never been high on what Thornton brings to the table, but tonight against his hometown Atlanta, a team he always played well against, Thornton likely could have contributed. The irony of Thornton being traded just hours before tip-off isn’t lost on me. In December I wrote a piece about Al Thornton being transformed and concluded he had figured it out, and that he was now much more efficient, and that he was well on his way to cutting out the long range jumper from his arsenal completely. Practically right after I hit “submit” Al went back to throwing up contested 20-footers in an effort to boost his stats and earn more minutes. That’s just the way Al Thornton played — he’d look dominant one game, and fall of the face of the Earth the next. There’s a special spot all carved out for him in the illustrious pantheon of frustrating Clippers. Who knows which Al Thornton would have came to play tonight, but the Clippers desperately needed someone who could at least challenge the Hawks at the rim.
In a way watching tonight’s game is a liberating experience. Gone are the days of eyeballing the standings and stressing over wins and losses. Gone are the stretches of not being able to stomach DeAndre Jordan’s now easily forgivable follies. Gone are the hopes and expectations that came with the former collection of talent. After the transactions the last two days, the present and immediate future suddenly bare no consequence. It’s freedom. It’s probably not the brand of freedom the players thought they were getting when Dunleavy moved up to the front office, but it’s freedom nonetheless.