It was a fitting way to end a disappointing game.
Four 3-pointers consecutively missed, intermitted with offensive rebounds and collective sighs among the Staples Center crowd, leading to the Clippers’ fourth loss in a row.
After a discouraging road trip in which the Clippers went 1-3 – and easily could’ve gone 3-1 if things in Oklahoma City and Brooklyn had swung their way – it was presumed L.A. would come out with a sense of urgency. That assumption couldn’t have been further from reality.
The game was particularly disheartening for me because it was my first Clipper game since last season’s playoffs. Though I had come expecting order to be restored in the Clippers’ season, it seemed like little had changed from the problems that plagued L.A. last year.
Chris Paul was asked to do too much on offense. An unsustainable shooting performance from a Clipper wing remained their second option offensively. Defensive rotations, if they can be called that, were missed and 3-pointers rained down. Seldom-used role players became key contributors for the opposition. DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers’ second best big man these past two seasons by a country mile, didn’t log a single fourth quarter minute.
But worst of all was their poor attitude and lack of composure when things didn’t go their way. For the most part, it hasn’t been an issue this season. Ryan Hollins and Matt Barnes are known instigators and are old school defenders that commit hard fouls, but neither had really crossed the line this season. Except last night, both were whistled for flagrant fouls on cheap shot plays.
At their lowest points last season, the Clippers were too concerned with the referees and flashes of that arrogance were shown Monday night.
Greivis Vasquez and Austin Rivers carved up the Clippers’ defense, as has been the case for perimeter players lately. It’s one thing to let Russell Westbrook get where he wants on the floor; it’s another thing to make Vasquez look like an All-Star. The tandem of Vasquez and Rivers combined for a staggering 39 points, 16 assists and eight 3-pointers.
Now compound this with the talents of the Hornets’ big men and you have a legitimate problem defensively. Shooting big men have traditionally given the Clippers fits the past couple of seasons and tonight’s game further confirmed this notion.
Jason Smith plopped in the short corner and killed the Clippers with his soft midrange touch. Ryan Anderson nailed five 3s, and the Clippers had no answer for his floor spacing; from the start they put Butler on him, relegating Blake Griffin to Al-Farouq Aminu, who also had a lot of success with his freakish length and athleticism on the wing (basically showing everything the Clippers thought he could become).
The Hornets were without their two best players, former Clipper Eric Gordon and 2012 first overall pick Anthony Davis, but even if those two had played, the Clippers should still have easily dispatched this team. Currently, the Hornets are tied for last place in the West and show few signs of cohesion. At least three of their rotation players would have difficulty making practically every other roster.
It’s no secret that Paul is the engine to the Clippers’ offense and almost all the responsibility on that end falls on his shoulders. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the team should just stand around and wait for him to create; the Clippers are at their best when players are moving off the ball, screening and cutting for each other, and creating space and opportunities for Paul to flourish. That didn’t really happen in this game.
To make matters worse, Griffin was rendered nonexistent against the Hornets. His 1-for-9 shooting performance was the worst of his career and so was his career-low 4 points. He struggled all night, couldn’t find any rhythm against Anderson or Smith and ultimately fouled out.
There isn’t much to take from his outing other than that the Clippers need to do a better job of finding Griffin in spots where he can score effectively. He only had two attempts from beyond 16 feet, which shouldn’t be the case anymore with the way he’s knocking those down.
Last season, fluke shooting performances by Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Nick Young kept the Clippers in some games in which Griffin or Paul underperformed; last night it was Butler, with his Clipper record nine 3-pointers. Butler will likely never come remotely close to this total again, but it showed that at least with the starting unit, the Clippers can take advantage of teams overloading their stars and set up a good shooter for a lot of wide open 3s.
Speaking of the starting unit: For whatever reason, Jordan seems to be permanently in Head Coach Vinny Del Negro’s doghouse. Del Negro favors Hollins and Odom in most situations over Jordan, which is a bit perplexing when you simply watch the difference between the Clippers big men.
Hollins has exceeded expectations thus far, but he’s not someone you want playing more than 10 minutes per game. He tends to over help, which works in his favor sometimes, but also leaves the Clippers’ backline of defense helpless.
There’s not much to say about Odom; he’s still out of shape and doesn’t contribute in any facet of the game. His three steals were nice, but they were more about lucking into being at the right place at the right time. Defensively he’s much improved, and actually traps well, but most of the time he struggles to get back into a play once he’s above the 3-point arc.
Jordan, for all his flaws, is the Clippers second-best big man – by far. There’s no question about it. He should play at least 27 to 30 minutes every game, barring foul trouble or poor matchups. Teams pull “Hack-a-DeAndre” so Del Negro will take him out because he’s so valuable on both sides of the floor; it’s a tactic that’s worked in the opposition’s favor.
It’s disconcerting to see Jordan not play, especially when his “bad” games are still better than the rest of the Clipper big men’s “good” games.
This cupcake of a matchup was supposed to lift the Clippers spirits and make them forget about their three-game losing streak. Instead, it just brought about more questions and seemingly more doubt. Four losses in a row are undoubtedly bad, but compounding this into a longer stretch is even worse.
It’s important not to get too high or too low in the season, but the recent trends have shown the Clippers have some serious concerns both offensively and defensively; concerns that could ultimately undermine their season. Chances are they’ll improve with a forgiving schedule over the next month, but they need to address their ongoing issues of floor spacing and defensive rotations.
Not all is lost in ClipperLand. This is still the team that started 8-2. They’re only to get better as the season progresses and Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill return from injury. If anything, this recent losing streak shows they’re not perfect. They’re susceptible to lulls. They’re not going to blow out every team they face.
They must be human, I guess.
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