This is what it’s like to be a contender. The regular season is a formality, save for games against other contenders. Although the Clippers have crushed many a foe, often by ridiculous totals, you’re not going to stop hearing the narrative that the Clippers can’t beat the best teams in the league. And while I’d love to keep you in the warm embrace of people who understand that there’s plenty of evidence that goes directly against that narrative, you can’t stay here forever. You’ll have to go back out in the wild eventually, because it’s Last Call.
Los Angeles Clippers
Recap | Box score
Oklahoma City Thunder
MVP: Kevin Durant. While he may not be the MVP of the league, he’s far and away the second best player in the NBA and most efficient scorer in the game. His 35 points on 25 shots fits the bill.
X factor: The Clippers’ zone. Lethargic for most of the game, Los Angeles brought out a zone that helped them get back in it. In the end though, OKC figured it out and exploited it for some easy baskets down the stretch.
That was … worrisome: The Thunder won, but with no help from their bench. Kevin Martin was out of it (3 of 12) and outside of him nobody can score. This could eventually come back to bite OKC.
— Jacob Frankel, HoopChalk
Hand down, man down?
Tweets of the Game
— RainnWilson (@rainnwilson) March 3, 2013
That was “ballsy”considering all the cameras everywhere…
— Andre Iguodala (@andre) March 3, 2013
“They threw that zone out there and it messed us up a little bit. I know it messed me up a bit.” — @kdtrey5 on the Clipper comeback.
— The NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 3, 2013
Slightly more legal ball swatting
Eric Bledsoe Per 36 Stat O’ The Night
(Tonight’s was easy because Bledsoe only played nine minutes. Nine. NINE!)
ClipperBlogLive’s Best Moment
In this imaginary episode of CBL that didn’t actually happen, Fred makes lots of bad ball related puns, Andrew wears a silly hat, and Jordan rejects any and all premises.
Check Your Messages
Vinny Del Negro – Luck Running Out
At the beginning of the season, Vinny Del Negro said that the Clippers employ the “Chris Paul System” on offense. This is a topic that has been covered from several different angles, including ClipperBlog Fearless Leader Kevin Arnovitz for TrueHoop back in mid-February. At its bare bones, it seems like a common sense solution. If the NBA is a superstar league, it makes sense to just give the ball to your superstar and let him go to work. However, the more we see out of Vinny Del Negro, is this philosophy starting to strike anyone else as a tacit admission that he has absolutely no idea how to best utilize Paul, so he’s just relying on Paul’s brilliance to cover up his deficiencies as a coach?
Against Oklahoma City this afternoon, continuing the theme of the season, Paul struggled mightily against longer, more physical opponents – in this case, Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha. Did Del Negro make an adjustment, maybe moving Paul to the wing to start the possession in order to curl him around a screen before getting the ball to initiate the offense? Of course not. That would make too much sense.
This represents a major problem going forward for the Clippers – they continually fail to make matchup-specific adjustments. The only thing they did today was switch to a zone in the second half, but that was late and out of desperation. It got them back into the game, yes, but if they were better prepared, they probably wouldn’t have been down double-digits in the second half in the first place. Del Negro is a reactionary coach, as opposed to a coach who recognizes a problem before it becomes a problem, like Gregg Popovich or Erik Spoelstra or Rick Carlisle. If Del Negro can’t see what’s coming, there’s no way he can prepare the team for it.
Eye on Chauncey
Remember those two great back-to-back shooting performances Chauncey Billups had right after coming back from his injury? Well, that fire seems to have cooled off.
Billups went a combined 9-for-14 from three in the final two games before the All-Star Break. He was back – or at least he was progressing. But his shooting has fallen off after the break. In six games, he’s shooting 25.9 percent from three and is averaging 4.3 points per game in 19.1 minutes a night. That’s not the production the Clippers need from their starting shooting guard. At the very least, they need him to hit his open jumpers.
Turn, Turn, Turn
Tell me if this sounds familiar. Team A turns it over 15 times in the first half. They mount a big run late, but it’s not quite enough as they give up good shots down the stretch.
That was the Indiana Pacers on Thursday against the Clippers. They had no business being in the game, but the Clippers couldn’t hit from deep, and so they got back into it.
Sunday, the Clippers played the role of the Pacers. They too had 15 turnovers in the first half, and one they stopped the silly errors and started to force OKC to launch from deep, they crawled out of the hole and got back in the game. And while the Clippers briefly regained the lead, coughing up the ball so much in the first half paid its toll.
For the second straight season, Oklahoma City is in the top 3 of turnovers allowed. The Clippers, meanwhile, force more turnovers than any team in the league this season.
Having Chris Paul is always a big advantage for the Clippers, but it can’t always be the biggest. Tonight it should have been turnovers, but the Clippers ended up -7 in an area they absolutely can’t lose if they want to keep the Thunder from another Finals appearance.