Another road game, another loss. This one wasn’t as heartbreaking for the Clippers as the Dallas and San Antonio losses, but it was arguably just as bad, if not worse, because the Rockets were without superstar James Harden.
The Clippers tried matching the Rockets 3-pointer for 3-pointer, but it didn’t work out, as the Clippers aren’t designed to play that style of basketball. The Rockets’ dribble penetration picked the Clippers apart, and they looked like the fresher, younger team. Chris Paul had a great game (19 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals), but no other Clipper played efficiently or did much.
Overall, the Clippers finished 3-1 in a disappointing trip that’s greatly worsened the chances of them securing the three-seed and having an easier path to the Western conference semifinals. Onto Last Call:
Recap | Box score
Los Angeles Clippers
No dime tonight, folks. But make sure to check out Marc Stein’s Weekend Dime (after you finish here, of course).
Blake Griffin mimics a rocket taking flight
(Hat tip: Sean Highkin).
No explanation needed
Tweet(s) of the Game
Clippers will now be 8-12 this year against the top six teams (SAS, OKC, DEN, MEM, GS, HOU) in the Western Conference.
— D.J. Foster (@fosterdj) March 31, 2013
“This has just been the sinking of the Titanic for the Clippers.” – Ralph Lawler
— Andrew Han (@andrewthehan) March 31, 2013
Eric Bledsoe Per 36 Stat O’ The Night
ClipperBlog Live’s Best Moment
Andrew Han and D.J. Foster run a mean two-man game, in which they discuss the Clippers’ chances of getting the three-seed and attempt to find some way to look at the glass half-full. And D.J. goes on a weird rant and claims he doesn’t like the name “Fandango.”
Check Your Messages
No Harden, No Cry
James Harden sat out with a sore foot, but it didn’t seem to slow down the Rockets at all. They were able to create a plethora of good looks out of their high pick-and-roll sets, particularly those run by Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverly. While they didn’t generate many assists (just 17 on 35 made baskets), and there was an overall sloppiness to the offense (20 turnovers), Lin and Beverly were consistently able to get into the paint, creating a lot of havoc along the back line of the Clippers’ defense.
Harden’s absence pushed Francisco Garcia into a more prominent role – his 27 minutes tonight was the most he’s played as a member of the Rockets this season. He played particularly well in those minutes, shooting 5-10 from the floor (3-7 from three) and providing a substantial upgrade defensively over Harden’s usually passive efforts. That was the real difference-maker for Houston – after surrendering 29 first-quarter points, their defense stepped up and held the Clippers to just 52 points over the next 36 minutes. LA’s three-point shooters found themselves suffocated, making just two of their last 16 attempts after starting five of six (Barnes and Odom had particularly ugly back-to-back misses – neither drew iron or even came particularly close to doing so).
– Jeremy Conlin
Fast Times at Rockets High
When I was in middle school, my identity changed every week. I was desperate to fit in, utterly terrified that the cool kids—with their baggy jeans and Marlboro Reds and wispy, pre-pubescent mustaches*—would reject me if they ever figured out how much of a nerd I was. But here’s the thing: I was a nerd. I just needed to embrace it.
Tonight the Clippers played like impressionable tweens: lacking confidence, unsure of their decisions, and pathetically desperate to impress their cool new friends from Texas. Rather than asserting themselves, they just mimicked whatever Houston did. It’s an ongoing theme for the latter half of this season: the Clippers’ chameleon-like tendency to play to the style of their opponents. Whereas the Clippers thrive with a methodical, slowed down style of play, Houston has the fastest pace in the league. Tonight, Houston wanted to run, and L.A. not only let them, but struggled in vain run with them—they just couldn’t keep up.
Let’s hope that next year the Clippers have a better sense of who they are.
*Look, things were different in the 90s.
– Patrick James
In Houston, Paint Already Red
The Clippers’ interior defense was absolutely miserable tonight against the Rockets, giving up 48 points in the paint, including Houston’s first 16 points. Though only the Pacers give up fewer points in the paint than the Clippers (36 per game), tonight’s performance was a sharp reminder of what can still be improved.
When found out of position, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin showed a tendency to easily resign themselves to allowing the Rockets to score around the hoop. Rather than restlessly hustling back into the action, Jordan and Griffin leisurely drift back into the play, if at all. Both were caught ball-watching in the middle of the key as Houston grabbed offensive rebounds, and more often, trailing far behind the play after getting caught in Houston’s commonly used high screen-and-roll.
The blame doesn’t rest squarely on the young shoulders of DJ and Blake because in the Clippers heavy-switching, heavy-hedging defense, bigs are at constant risk of shifting out of position. Further, Vinny Del Negro’s defensive strategy doesn’t emphasize “shape” to any noticeable extent, which makes recovering into appropriate defensive positioning all the more difficult.
– Michael Shagrin
Here is the Clippers’ record by month:
Disregarding their outlier 17-game win streak, the Clippers are just 35-26, which would put them on pace to win 47 games, or in the range that the Warriors/Rockets are in. That’s good, but nowhere near elite or championship-caliber.
I know that’s flawed logic (take away 17 wins from any team and their record will be a lot worse), but the Clippers have yet to sustain any level of consistency or excellence outside of that 17-game stretch. (Even if you take away the Heat’s 27-game win streak, they’re 30-15, which is on pace for 55 wins.) All the Clippers shown so far is that they’re going to win about 60 percent of their games, and struggle against most of the really good teams.
– Jovan Buha
Whenever an NBA team has to play four games in five nights, it’s commonly referred to as a “schedule loss.” It’s almost impossible to play two consecutive back-to-backs, separated by just one day, and win the fourth game. It showed tonight, as the Clippers were simply out of gas. They were routinely beat down the floor in transition, couldn’t stop the Rockets’ dribble penetration, and lacked the explosion that makes their offensive attack so potent. Every team suffers schedule losses, but the Clippers’ loss proves costly, as it affects their playoff seeding.
– Jovan Buha at ESPN Los Angeles
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