“It’s probably my imagination, but something about them didn’t seem quite right.”
Those are the words uttered by Bart Simpson in the episode “Burns’ Heir” shortly after being shown a video of what supposedly is the Simpson family no longer wanting young Bart to come home. Of course, they’re not his actual family, but a group of stand-ins hired to play them.
Watching Clippers basketball lately has been like Bart watching this video. They look like the Clippers, and yet, the issues from earlier this season or even seasons past have become so exaggerated that it almost doesn’t feel like the same team.
Even with all the injuries, LA was the fourth best three-point shooting team by percentage prior to the All-Star break and ranked 10th in Defensive Rating. Since the break, the three-point shooting percentage ranks 18th and the defensive rating at 27th. In addition, what was already a middle-of-the-pack rebounding team in the first half has ranked next-to-last in the second.
Doc Rivers mentioned putting health before seeding in his postgame interview after Monday’s win against the Celtics, calling for a need to “get right.” Given the injuries from the past few playoff berths, the emphasis on health is not unwelcome. Yet preservation in this case can’t only be for the body, but also of the identity, and as the style of play continues to slip, the concern regarding the team’s play only heightens.
X-Factor: In the last game the against the Timberwolves, a 37-point outing from Karl-Anthony Towns spoiled a promising 46 minutes of Clippers basketball sans Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The duo were back for this game, but Towns remained defiant, scoring 29 points on 10-14 shooting while pulling down 14 rebounds. He had six first quarter rebounds alone, which was more than LA pulled down as a team in that same span.
Major Moment: With the clock winding down at the end of the second quarter, Blake Griffin passed the ball to Chris Paul, who heaved the ball towards the basket from beyond half court just ticks before the buzzer sounded. The shot banked in to bring the Clippers, once down 15 in the half, to within three. The late quarter rally would end up all for naught, however, as the rally could not be sustained in the second half of the contest.
Chris Paul beats the buzzer from DEEP! pic.twitter.com/F71BWqT8ju
— NBA (@NBA) March 9, 2017
Key Lineup: The Clippers backcourt is often an anchor and often considered one of the tops in the league. Tonight, on the other hand, the tandem of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick largely struggled, and the pair finished the game with a net rating of -20.9 in the 26 minutes in which they shared the floor.
The Definition: With the Warriors losing and the Spurs winning, the possibility of avoiding Golden State in the second round grows, but the question remains of how likely it is the Clippers can stay in the 4th or 5th range. With their next game against 6th seeded Memphis, a win is all the more necessary to provide more breathing room from dropping further in the standings, regardless of how much emphasis the team is placing on the seeding at this time.