Just prior to the game, both Chris Kaman and Steve Nash were ruled out due to flu-like symptoms and Ryan Gomes was having problems with his knee. The Clippers did lose their third or fourth option on offense with Kaman (and their last option with Gomes), but the Suns lost not only an efficient scorer but the man that runs the entire offense. Combine that with the Suns’ four losses going into the game, and the momentum had to be with the Clippers.
And for the start, the Clippers played like they had the momentum.
DeAndre Jordan muscled for a couple offensive rebounds and a five foot hook shot (with his right hand) for the first points of the game as well as almost making a solid lefty hook off a good seal. Eric Gordon broke out of his slump with his first two jump shots, assisted by Blake and Mo, which led the way to 21 points on 8 for 16 shooting. Mo made a three. Blake was typical Blake (20 points on 6 for 15 shooting, 13 rebounds and 4 assists), getting Gordon involved, transition dunks, righty bank shots off the block. Even Jamario Moon drilled a three. The Clippers were soaring, with an easy 19-14 lead through the first eight minutes of the first quarter.
However, DeAndre mowed over Channing Frye for his second foul and Mo drew two fouls (the second after he undercut Grant Hill who made the bucket), and the Clippers immediately lost momentum. That five point lead dropped to 2 points, then the Clippers were even and by the end of the quarter the Clippers were down two.
When Mo left the game in the first, Randy Foye (10 points, 4 for 8 shooting, 0 assists) took over the reigns and the Clippers offense immediately sputtered. They didn’t score for the next two minutes, only scored 4 points in the last four minutes and shot 2 for 7 from the field while missing both free throws and turning the ball over twice. Eric Bledsoe (9 points, 4 for 6 shooting, 3 assists and 3 steals) may have his problems, but he’s much closer to a natural point than Randy Foye.
With the first half push turned into an end of quarter deficit, the Clippers seemed to have given up. Blake still continued to rack up rebounds and points, but even he lollygagged down the court and looked defeated. With the help of rookie point guard Zabian Dowdell (14 points, 5 for 10 shooting and 5 assists), the Suns bust the game open, leading by as many as 16 in the second half.
The Clippers barely tried to defend a team without Steve Nash, and while there’s no question he’s much better than Aaron Brooks or Dowdell, they are still NBA players that need to be covered. But the Clippers suffered from a bout of laziness and never even thought about inching closer in the second half. Really, the only part of the second half that was even worth watching was Eric Bledsoe’s fast break bounce pass backwards between his legs to a trucking Brian Cook for the jam. Everything in the middle? Just a vicious reminder that the Clippers have a long ways to improve.
Yes, they have Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon looked much better, but the fact is that the team doesn’t function as a team consistently enough. March was a huge improvement, but like in January, the Clippers benefitted from a home heavy schedule and some weak opponents when they did go on the road. The Clippers need to continue to play hard, not play to the level of their competition. Actually, had they played to the level of the Nash depleted Suns, they would have at least put up a fight. As it were, the Clippers strolled through to their 47th loss of the season in a disturbingly relaxed fashion.
- With Gomes out, Jamario Moon got the nod at starting small forward. Other than his first three, Moon was on a non-stop mission to prove that he’s not a starting small forward. He missed the rest of his shots (1 for 4 on the night), didn’t record a steal or a block, although he did have two inane turnovers and his 4 rebounds were in no way compensatory for the rest of his night. In theory, I like the idea of Moon, but he’s not part of the future. If the Clippers are just going to get a turnover prone small forward, why not put in Aminu and develop him?
- Tonight was by far the best I’ve seen Eric Bledsoe operate a fast break. He drove until defenders collapsed on him, and then kicked it out to the appropriate player. He showed moments of hustle and, outside of Gordon, was the most active on the floor. Hope that VDN’s lesson in the Dallas game has positive residual effects, although I don’t like seeing Foye get the point guard call before Bledsoe in any situation.
- Clippers really could have used Kaman tonight. As soon as DeAndre went into foul trouble (which has been happening with less frequency, but still), the Clippers had to go to Rhino in the paint. As good as he is, the height disadvantage can be brutal, especially against a tall Suns team (Frye, Gortat and Lopez are all over 7’1” and long). Kaman would have been a great balance to draw Gortat off Blake for stretches when the Clippers needed points.