The Clippers lost at home to the Spurs 103-100 in overtime in one of the craziest games of the season. First, check out the Lob City Ledger over at ESPNLA.com by Jordan Heimer, then let’s dive into three things.
- Randy Foye’s Third Quarter Explosion: What a roller coaster. The Clippers moved the ball extremely well in the first quarter, even without Chris Paul in the game. Blake Griffin was drawing fouls and exploiting his mismatches in one-on-one situations, and the ball was being peppered around the perimeter when San Antonio came with help. The Spurs, of course, made their adjustments defensively and began to knock down their open looks on the other end. After getting up big to start the game, the Clippers fell behind 65-50 in the third quarter when their offense stalled. Enter Randy Foye. The Clippers went on an insane 15-0 run behind some ridiculous shooting from Foye, who put up a Kobe-esque 16 points (!) in the third quarter alone. For the second straight game, the Clippers pulled back into it in the third period with solid defense and contributions outside of the usual suspects.
- Chris Paul’s Fourth Quarter Takeover: Paul really takes the whole “winning time” thing pretty seriously. The back-and-forth battle with Paul and Tony Parker was the most entertaining aspect of the game. Because the Clippers struggled to defend the Parker/Duncan pick-and-roll, they ended up switching all ball-screens — a strategy that probably should be utilized more with a mobile defender like Kenyon Martin on the floor. On the other end, Blake Griffin represented too much of a threat in the post, so the Spurs sent aggressive double-teams to him on the catch. It was a little bit of a chess match between the two coaching staffs, but Paul rescued the game with two straight knifing drives to the rim that resulted in layups to give the Clippers a 91-90 lead with less than a minute remaining. After Parker hit two free throws on his end, Paul made a heady veteran play by literally grabbing Kawhi Leonard’s arm as he turned the corner to draw contact, then exploding backward (all right in front of the ref) as if he had been completely pushed out of bounds. It worked. Paul got to the line, and did his part by making his two free throws, then hit two more after a GREAT defensive rotation by Kenyon Martin got the Clippers the stop they needed. More on what followed that possession later… but how about the fourth quarter totals for Paul? 17 points, and a perfect 7-for-7 from the line. It’s insane how he’s able to flip the switch the way he does when the fourth rolls around.
- Blake Griffin’s Everything: The Clippers have this tendency to portion out the quarters offensively. Caron Butler, you get the first quarter. Mo Williams, you take the second. We’ll play defense in the third, and then Chris Paul takes the fourth. Blake Griffin, however, doesn’t get let in on that fun. Griffin has been the steadying factor offensively by making the right decisions in the post and out-working everyone else around the rim. It kind of goes without saying, but you don’t stumble into 20-20 games with 7 offensive rebounds without a ton of effort and energy. Griffin’s improved defensive play deserves its own post, so I’ll stop here, but Griffin was again the workhorse through all four quarters.
- The rest of Chris Paul’s Night: Some of the Clippers best moments through the first three quarters came without Paul on the floor — a good sign going forward. The fact that the Clippers can remain in games against really good teams like San Antonio with Paul only having one field goal going into the fourth doesn’t belong in the “bad” section, but Paul’s performance through three probably does. You can appreciate the fact that Paul saves his best for crunch time and when the games really matter (read: playoffs), but I’d be more comfortable not depending on Randy Foye to go nuclear to stay in ballgames.
- Gomes as the inbounder: The Clippers were up 3, with the ball, with nine seconds left. Literally, the only thing they had to do was get the ball inbounds. That’s it. Just get it in, get fouled, and make 1-of-2 free throws and the game is over. I even sarcastically tweeted before the play to “Put Ryan Gomes in the game to inbound!” as a joke. But Del Negro actually did it, just eight days after he saw Gomes call a timeout on his first try, then turn it over on his next to Lou Williams to give Philly a lead and a win, if not for some Chris Paul heroics. So out of the timeout, incredibly, Del Negro went right back to Gomes to inbound the ball. I get that you don’t want Blake Griffin on the floor. I understand that. But why not have Mo Williams or Randy Foye inbound the ball — guards who are used to having the ball in their hands to make good passes? Only one guy can get fouled — I get the theory of having three 85 percent three-point shooters out there, but it doesn’t mean anything if the guy inbounding the ball is freaking out because he hasn’t played in forever and he’s ice cold. Probably the only person happy to see Gomes enter the game to inbound the ball again was Daniel Ewing.
- Seriously? Gomes? So you don’t want a guard inbounding. You want someone with size — that’s fine. Have Butler inbound the ball. He’s been playing, he’s loose. I know Gomes is a smart guy, but intelligence doesn’t matter when your system is flooded with the fear of screwing up. Gomes throwing the ball to Paul right before he crossed over into the backcourt was literally the one second where he couldn’t pass the ball. Paul had no choice but to try and avoid the violation, and Gary Neal was in the right place at the right time to bury a wide open 3 to push the game to overtime. You had the sense that, even in a roller coaster game with all of those swings, the ride was over for the Clippers. There’s no coming back from that. Gomes deserves the criticism for making a dumb decision — he’s a professional basketball player, and that was inexcusable — but it’s a spot he should have never been in, in the first place.
There were so many good things to come out of this game. The Clippers played really well offensively without Paul for extended stretches. Blake Griffin was utilized well. There were some good adjustments made on the fly. The defensive rotations were improved. It really looked like a game you could point to and say, “they’re putting it all together.”
But then disaster struck, again. And now you look to this game and point to something else entirely.