In a battle of which team could care less, the Clippers clearly won. Or lost. Or whatever. The game had a depressing concessionary feel with the Rockets officially out of the playoffs, sitting Kyle Lowry, and the Clippers struggling in the absence of Chris Kaman and the after-effects of Eric Bledsoe’s suspension.
No exact word on why Bledsoe was suspended, other than the standard violation of team policy (Bledsoe was sent home on a commercial flight), but a intently lethargic play overtook the Clippers. While this could be expected of any team, the Clippers lone strategic/tactical strength this season was to play hard. They didn’t ever have a decently run offense (even with Baron a team needs more than PnR-rinse-repeat), their defense only played well when their energy overwhelmed, one player had a monster defensive effort or they surprised a team for a few minutes with zone defense, but their energy, aside from a few games on their 11 game road trip, rarely faltered.
But tonight the Clippers looked beyond lackadaisical and exhausted. They looked like they had planned out their vacation schedule. The Clippers had a small run to start out the game, 6-0 on two Gordon free throws, a Blake slam and a DeAndre layup, but the effectiveness was more due to the sloppiness of the game than the efficacy of the Clipper offense. And then the Clippers decided to give in after Goran Dragic scored a layup, and then Dragic, after being the last player to start back, chased down Mo Williams, completely picked Mo’s pocket and then assisted Kevin Martin’s transition three. The Clipper offense completely faltered, even Blake Griffin missed two dunks and shot 6 for 18 on a smattering of missed dunks, lazy fadeaways, impossible layups and well-contested short shots from Chuck Hayes. It should be mentioned that Eric Gordon played hard and well, scoring 12 points in the first quarter and finishing with 19, but his good play was little more than a backhanded complement, like being called the fastest sloth in the world.
The effort in the game was so bad that even the eternal cheerleader Mike Smith and his partner Ralph Lawler were calling out the players by the end of the second quarter and were thoroughly disappointed by the third. The effort was so bad that the Clippers players cleared out for an isolation play for Jamario Moon early in the third quarter. Is there a worse player on the team in isolation than Jamario?
The game began to take on the machinations of a protest game. I don’t know exactly what Eric Bledsoe did, because there was the report in last night’s game that Bledsoe had turned an ankle and had an MRI. I don’t know why they couldn’t just acknowledge the infraction, if there was one, but covering the truth won’t sit well. This loss to the Rockets could still be an end of season flop, but there was nothing leading up to this game that would rationalize the Clippers play in this game. They have been out of the playoffs, and they haven’t mattered for months. Who knows if the play was just an outlier of laziness or whether Bledsoe’s suspension was a galvanizing event, but the Clipper players appeared more than just tired, but purposefully disinterested. Like they were playing the easiest they could without being accused of outright tanking the game. At no point was there any urgency. And now, this begs the question as to whether Vinny will even be around to see a second season.
Vinny was brought in under the pretenses that he could play the young guys and, outside of starting Ryan Gomes the whole year, he has. But there really hasn’t been much development with Aminu or Bledsoe and Bledsoe’s suspension makes the case that Vinny is even further from reaching Bledsoe and, more importantly, the team.
If there has been one thing in the last few weeks that Vinny has consistently harped on, it has been the effort and consistency of his young guys, which isn’t that difficult of a code for Aminu and Bledsoe (Blake is so far ahead of the rest of the team that he can’t even be considered a rookie). They were challenges to respond. And not only did the rookies respond, but the whole team did. In the worst way possible. I don’t know what will happen in the last game on Wednesday against the Grizzlies, but if I were Vinny, I’d be worried.