If you were to draw up a typical Clippers loss this season, what would you include? A strong start, brilliance from Blake, lots of turnovers, high energy but confused defense, a third quarter meltdown, stagnant offense, a middling fourth quarter that doesn’t make up for the third, the sinking feeling of a loss. Other than the strong first quarter, that’s about what you would have seen from the Clippers against the Hornets. All the lessons that the Clippers learned to implement in January at home, the Clips still haven’t even come close to figuring out on the road.
This Clippers loss featured a few new things: Chris Kaman played more minutes than DeAndre Jordan (25 to 16 minutes) for the first time since November and Baron Davis sat out the game with a balky knee, giving Eric Bledsoe the starters minutes. However, those changes didn’t so much as improve the game so much as change the change the faces playing it.
Bledsoe, having showed promise in the early part of the season, didn’t inspire quite the same zeal against the Hornets. He still was quick and doled out 7 assists, but his passing hasn’t been his problem, more his consistency of his passing. He turned the ball over four times, one embarrassingly bad time on a simple inbounds play after a basket when he dribbled the ball off his leg and out of bounds. Those are routine plays that just can’t happen if you’re going to be the starting point guard for a winning team.
Kaman showed his first signs of warmth shooting on the season, going 6 for 11, but he didn’t block any shots, only pulled down 4 rebounds in 25 minutes and turned the ball over 4 times as well.
Actually, there were four separate players on the Clippers that had 4 turnovers (Bledsoe, Kaman, Blake and Ryan Gomes) and a large portion of the credit should be given to the Hornets. Monty Williams has stressed defense in his first season with the Hornets and they have been holding opponents to 92 points when they are playing at home. The Hornets were in the Clippers face, Paul pressuring Bledsoe into turnovers and the bigs (a smattering of David West, Aaron Gray, Jason Smith) doubled Blake the majority of the game.
In the first quarter, the Hornets held the Clippers to only 16 points, but that was all in the first seven minutes of the game, before the Hornets figured out the Clips. And figure them out, they did. After Ryan Gomes’ jumper at 5:09, the Clippers had shot 7 for 11 and were leading 16-11. But then the Clippers didn’t make another field goal the rest of the quarter, in fact, they only attempted 4 field goals the rest of the quarter. Even if they made those shots, the Clips would only have scored 24 points, not good. Instead, in the last 5:09, the Clippers had 6 turnovers. The Hornets were swarming and smart, something that the Clippers have had enough trouble with at home, but on the road they are completely hopeless.
And what was frustrating was the Clippers’ inability to match the Hornets effort on the defensive end, they trailed at the half and the Clippers have lost now 35 games in a row on the road when they are trailing at the half. Even Eric Gordon’s influence didn’t help the Clippers overcome trailing on the road at the half.
The Clippers allowed the Hornets to make 40 of 78 shots for 51.3 percent shooting. Chris Paul put up another simply Chris Paul night with 19 points on 8 for 17 shooting, 10 assists, six rebounds and three steals, but he also didn’t have much trouble getting looks with Bledsoe on him. Bledsoe couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to go over or under screens (signs of coaching and preparation) and left Paul so wide open on some shots that I think Paul missed a few because of sheer disbelief. Not that Foye or Blake were much better. Willie Green had another of his strangely effective nights, scoring 17 points on 7 for 11 shooting with Foye covering him, and Blake, while he challenged shots (blocking two) and drew a charge, he didn’t pose much of a obstacle to David West, who schooled Blake for 22 points on 9 for 18 shooting.
At home, in January, the Clippers learned to keep the play of the stars down, they learned to hold teams shooting percentage down, they knew how to rotate the ball to shoot a higher percentage and how to keep from having that third quarter epic fail that they do on an otherwise nightly basis. But on the road, they just haven’t a clue, and because they’ve been out on the road for so long, struggling with the same struggles every night, it just seems like a regression from the identity that they had worked so hard to create.
The Hornets going for a 15-4 run in the third quarter was only an inevitability. The Clippers playing hard but ineffectively through the rest of the game wasn’t so much as hopeful as it was tiresome and sad. They just don’t know what they are doing.
• On ESPN’s broadcast, Hubie Brown spoke about the Hornets’ screens, saying that the they were having lots of success with staggered screens because the Clipper defender that shows on the other side of the screen isn’t stopping the dribbler, so the Hornet ball handler (usually Chris Paul) can have patience, keep the dribble and let the offense open back up. Maybe the Clippers should try to play the screen better against Chris “I’m the best PG in the league” Paul.
• Willie Warren had a minute tonight, and a bucket. Considering his efficacy in the D-League (21 points, 7 assists in 25.5 minutes per game), should he be getting more run in the backup role with Baron and EJ out?
• Al-Farouq Aminu, more what I expected from the beginning of the year. I never thought he’d be a three point threat this early in his career, which he clearly isn’t anymore, but more of a slashing, interior player with good hands and a feel for offensive rebounding. That was him tonight, as he scored 8 points on 2 for 5 shooting and 4 for 4 from the line. He also grabbed 5 rebounds and, miraculously, didn’t have a turnover (or wasn’t credited for one, I saw him have his pocket picked by Ariza that may have been given to another player). Still, he was at least effective.
• Kaman looks better, but there are times when the Clips throw the ball into him and they hesitate to cut. Especially Blake.
• Don’t think that the increase in turnovers and Baron’s absence are mutually exclusive.