The Clippers are a tough team to get a handle on, even this far into the season.
We’ve seen good Baron Davis (like tonight), and we’ve seen bad Baron Davis. We’ve seen stretches where the Clippers played borderline great defense (like the stretch of wins where they slowed down Kobe, Roy and Wade) and we’ve seen stretches where the Clippers played absolutely awful defense (like when they let Minnesota score 111 and win).
From a fan perspective, the Clippers have been infuriating to follow, and I choose the word infuriating for a reason. Last season the Clippers were just depressing to follow. The effort was poor, the personnel wasn’t great…it was just a depressing team to follow. This year, that’s not the case. The personnel is much improved. Maybe not playoff worthy, but talented nonetheless. The effort is almost always there. For all the Clippers issues, it’s been rare to see games where the team looked like they just didn’t care. Watch some tape from the 2008-2009 season compared to this season and you can tell the effort is lightyears better.
Through the course of the season, I’ve harped on three main reasons that I think explain why the Clippers aren’t very good.
- Defensive rebounding.
- Baron Davis’ shot selection.
Then something like tonight happens and screws with my whole theory.
Tonight the Clippers turned the ball over only eight times all game. They kept Okafor and West off the offensive glass and only gave up six offensive rebounds to the Hornets. Baron Davis shot 14 times, but only took three of his attempts outside of the paint.
As far as my list goes, you really couldn’t ask for a more perfect game. Yet the Clippers still lost.
There’s a stretch in the fourth quarter that dooms the Clippers’ chances. Ironically enough, it starts with two Chris Kaman free throws. Kaman’s been in a slump, but it’s not hard to figure out why: He’s shot just three free throw attempts in his last five games. That’s 139 minutes of playing time for Kaman, a 7-footer mind you, and just three free throw attempts. I don’t need to expand on the absurdity of that.
Anyhow, here’s the stretch that puts the Clippers away in the fourth quarter:
[7:28, 4thQ] The game is tied at 87 a piece. Marcus Thornton comes off a high pick at the top of the key that the Clippers get hung up on. We often harp on the bigs and their pick and roll defense, but the Clips perimeter players are some of the worst in the league at avoiding and getting through screens. Gordon gets hung up on the high pick, and Marcus Thornton turns the corner and penetrates. Baron comes off his man to stop Thornton’s penetration, and Morris Peterson is suddenly all alone in the left corner for an open three. It’s good.
[6:39, 4thQ] Tough to argue with this one. Thornton shoots a three from about 30 feet that falls in. He gets a lot of good looks on the evening, but this isn’t one of them. Still, the Hornets go up six and the Clippers call timeout.
[5:54, 4thQ] Darius Songaila receives the ball at the top of the key. Chris Kaman is standing at about the free throw line, daring Songaila to shoot. Songaila isn’t effective from NBA three-point range, so he makes the shot more manageable for himself by taking one dribble in and firing. Kaman doesn’t close out, and the shot is good.
Let’s summon Hubie Brown for this one. Okay, if I’m Chris Kaman, I have to ask myself this: Do I care if Darius Songaila tries to blow by me with the dribble and attack the rim? Because I shouldn’t. Now Songaila isn’t the best perimeter shooter, but I have to take my chances by staying up on the jumper and forcing Songaila to beat me as a playmaker.
[5:18, 4thQ] Another late closeout by the Clippers perimeter defenders, and Marcus Thornton nails a three from the wing.
And just like that, what was once a tie game turns into an 11 point defecit in less than two minutes. The Hornets shoot an insane 69 percent from the field in the second half, mostly from jumpers. If Darren Collison hits mid-range shots, it’s understandable. Because of his incredible quickness, you want to give him plenty of breathing room. But the ghost of Mo Peterson can’t hit you for 17 points.
The Hornets hit a ton of perimeter shots, but a few extra steps teamed with a little more aggression could have made those looks even tougher. In the first half, the Clippers did a better job of closing out and scrambling. The second half, not so much.
Really though, it’s tough to win when such a critical part of your offensive game plan goes ice cold like Kaman did tonight. Kaman finished 3-for-15 from the field and 0-for-12 on attempts that weren’t dunks. Quite literally, Kaman couldn’t hit a shot all night. It’s a tricky situation to be in: Do you play DeAndre Jordan instead of Kaman down the stretch, or do you ride out Kaman’s bad night in hopes he’ll start making shots? These types of decisions aren’t easy.
In a way, this Clippers season has been akin to a leaking roof. Certain holes get patched up, but a new leak always springs up. Baron plays his best game of the season, Kaman plays his worst. Eric Gordon comes back from injury, Craig Smith goes missing. And like that it goes on and on, and on and on.