Here are five things I saw from a team playing its first of three games in three days, on the road, against a good team coming off of two brutal losses:
- Without DeAndre Jordan, they had no chance. He drew his second foul less than three minutes into the game and his fourth with four minutes left in the third. By limiting himself to only 18 minutes, the Clippers felt Jordan’s absence on the glass and most noticeably on the defensive end. When they went into a zone on multiple occasions, you could only wonder how much more effective they would have been with Jordan’s length and athleticism to contest shots and gobble up boards. Instead, Indiana shot just under 50% from the floor and won the rebounding battle, 41-37. Aside from guys who only played the last two minutes, Jordan (+7) had the only positive plus/minus on the team, which tells you all you need to know.
- The Pacers bench and runs. The Pacers bench, led by George Hill and Leandro Barbosa, outscored the Clippers’, 50-23. Every time you looked, Indy was making a run and it was these guys, not the starters, as the catalysts. By not getting stops and relying on the jumper, the Clippers left themselves vulnerable to cold streaks and the Pacers, coming off two embarrassing losses to the Knicks, made them pay. They made statements at the end of every quarter that would set the tone for the game, finishing with runs of 9-0, 9-3, and 15-4 before a 4th that saw the starters celebrating a win on the bench.
- Chris Paul and the paint. Paul made comments before the game about needing to start games faster, that he often takes the first three quarters to get to know an opponent before attacking in the 4th. Tonight, after leading a crisp first quarter with seven points and four assists, the offense sputtered and he was unable to steer it back on track. The Pacers doubled Paul on pick-and-rolls, forcing him to give him the ball. Because he was unable to consistently get into the lane — eight of his 11 shots came outside the paint — the success of a Chris Paul-heavy gameplan hinged on the shooting strokes of Nick Young, Caron Butler and Mo Williams, who went 4-15 from three. With Jordan in foul trouble and Blake Griffin and Kenyon Martin opting to play around the perimeter, the Clippers went most of the game without any threat to score inside.
- Blake Griffin and the “pick” and “roll.” Along with Paul, his 14 points and five rebounds were the driving force behind the Clippers’ fast start. He made a few jumpers — including a shot clock-beating 3-pointer with a hand in his face that came out much cleaner than many he takes wide open — and on at least one play used them to set up a pump fake and drive past Tyler Hansbrough. But like Paul, he faded during the middle two quarters as the game was being decided. He took nine jumpers in the game, but more to the point, he stopped setting screens altogether. When he’s engaged, he can get away with popping rather than rolling if he does so with purpose, but when he starts posting up along the 3-point line, it just takes away space. He was 2 of 7 from the line and was as responsible as anyone for Tyler Hansbrough’s 17 points. All in all, it was another 23 and 10 night that left you wanting more.
- Randy Foye: DNP, coach’s decision. That was…abrupt. One day he’s the starter, the next he’s last on the depth chart, behind Travis Leslie? Nick Young entered the starting lineup as we expected, but rather than bring Foye off the bench with Mo Williams, Vinny Del Negro he went with Eric Bledsoe for 13 minutes of Chris Paul relief. It’s possible another reason emerges, but reports are that Del Negro just preferred Bledsoe in this matchup and that Foye had, indeed fallen out of the rotation, at least for the night. You can’t blame him; Bledsoe’s defensive impact is obvious and more so than Butler, Williams, Foye and Young, his game can still be very effective if shots aren’t falling. We’ll see how Del Negro plays it against Oklahoma City tomorrow after watching Butler, Williams and Young shoot 15 for 38, while Bledsoe turned in another inspired performance. Talk about a stat stuffer: 2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal.