Ugh. The Clippers did nothing to shed their reputation for playing down to inferior opponents, needing a furious comeback in the final minutes to beat a depleted Rockets team, 95–91. With three minutes to play and the Clips down six, I was trying to figure out if this would be a more dispiriting loss than Thursday’s loss to the Steve Nash-less Suns (For the record, my answer was ‘Yes’). Then Chris Paul happened and everyone went home smiling.
Anyway, I’m putting on my (surprisingly well-worn) DJ Foster mask in order to ape his patented 5 Things I Think I Think. Without further ado –
closer, first-half no-show
The way we frame something makes such a difference. Chris Paul played his best ball down the stretch, scoring 12 of the Clippers final 14 points, after spending most of the game doing his impression of the Invisible Man. We’ve seen versions of that pattern all season — what’s changed is our tolerance for it.
Remember December? Back then, with the trade still only a few weeks old, even Paul’s tepid starts were treated as proof of his preternatural basketball IQ. He wasn’t a slow starter, he was “conserving his energy,” proving his point-guard savvy by exerting himself only when absolutely required.
This explanation never totally made sense to me. Aren’t the plaudits usually reserved for the guy who dons blue collar and hard hat, tucks a brown paper bag into metal lunch box, and “leaves it all on the floor.” And the grind of the season has exposed a deeper flaw in this “less is actually more” logic: It is all but impossible for the Clippers to blow out anyone without Chris Paul scoring.
For a team with such an explosive offense, the Clippers have won precious few blowouts. More tight games means more key players playing more minutes during a season where rest is precious and rare. And, of course, sometimes there is not thrilling come back. You just lose.
Don’t get me wrong. Chris Paul is the league’s premiere point guard, and the single best reason to believe that the Clippers could make a playoff run despite their myriad deficiencies. But in the absence of both Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry, the Rockets were forced to play Gorin Dragic and Courtney Lee a combined 85 minutes. Dragic, in particular, looked gassed midway through the 2nd quarter, hanging out at the top of the key and barely engaging in Houston’s offense. Wouldn’t that have been a great time for Chris Paul to attack the basket? Does everything have to be so exciting?
Which segues nicely into –
Umm … Vinny?
Watching the Spurs play the Thunder yesterday, I was struck by something very simple: When something worked for the Spurs, they kept doing it until the Thunder adjusted. For most of the first half that meant Tony Parker getting into the lane off pick n rolls, and making good decisions when the Thunder collapsed. And the strategy didn’t change as the Spurs’ lead grew to 10, then 15, then 20 points. Because it was working.
Now I don’t know if that decision comes from Pop or the players on the floor. Most likely, it’s both. But it kills me to hear Del Begro continue to explain his philosophy as “letting players play.” Blake Griffin and Randy Foye aren’t exactly Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli in the basketball IQ department. The Rockets were missing their entire starting backcourt.
This should have been a classic pressure over time situation, with the Clippers doing everything possible to exhaust a depleted opponent. High pick and roll, spread the floor, move the ball, make tired guys run around like crazy. Right? Instead, Vinny “let the players play,” which, in practice, meant feeding Blake in the post and a bevy of contested jumpers.
Chris Paul didn’t even LOOK at the lane until the second half, when — surprise, surprise — he repeatidly and effortlessly beat an exhausted Dragic off the dribble. Mismatches — exploit them.
Which segues into …
I think Chauncey Billups agrees with me
Chauncey Billups returned to the bench Saturday, a week after beginning to rehab his torn Achilles. Check out some of Chauncey’s quotes in his pre-game presser:
On the team’s attitude:
We’re playing selfishly, both defensively and offensively… We got away from our principles… the mentality needs to be tweaked back to where it was at the start of the season.
On his role going forward this season:
I just say what I see. I don’t sugar coat anything. Whatever I see, from A to Z.
On Nick Young:
He can score within the plays you call, secondary actions, pin downs. You don’t need to put him in isolation.
I know how to play with K-Mart. I know how to handle K-Mart. I know how to best use K-Mart.
Usually, I would dismiss the idea that adding Chauncey to the bench might change the way this team is coached. But look at how specific these player comments are. Doesn’t knowing how to “best use” K-Mart imply that Billups doesn’t think Martin is being properly utilized. What about those Nick Young comments? It sounded to me like Billups was attempting to pre-emptively define Young’s role before it could be mis-designed (ie as a pure isolation scorer). And the general comments, about a mentality that needs to be “tweaked back to where it was,” and Billups’ forthrightness also sounded to me like a guy who doesn’t like a lot of what he’s seeing and isn’t afraid to make suggestions.
Either that or my frustration with VDN has me grasping at straws. Thoughts?
Caron, Welcome Back?
Not all the way back. Not first-month-of-the-year-can-you-believe-anyone-doubted-the-wisdom-of-this-contract?!?! back. But better for sure.
To me, the most troubling aspect of Caron’s miserable shooting month has been the apparent lack of alternatives to his mid-range j. With his shot so obviously not falling, why wasn’t he trying to find other ways to score. Was he hurt? Tired? Going through a “dead-leg” phase?
So needless to say, it was encouraging to see Caron show off some of the old giddy-up, scoring most of his points by blowing by defenders, even finishing one baseline drive with an authorative two-handed slam. Eventually his shot will come back around, but, in the meantime, he needs to continue to play this aggressively to be valuable.
Now, if DeAndre Jordan could just manage to play himself back into the fourth quarter rotation we might really have something.
And finally …
Dear Junior Jam Dance Squad coordinator:
I’m no prude, but there are just some dance moves that eight year-olds shouldn’t do. Shakira thinks that’s a lot of butt-wiggling.