The game followed an increasingly familiar pattern, in which the Clippers are so utterly inept in one facet of the game that it completely undermines an otherwise excellent effort. Against the Nuggets, an inability to guard Carmelo helped send Denver to the line 59 (!) times. In Portland, the Clippers couldn’t overcome 17 missed free throws. Today, the Clippers played well enough to win, but failed to even remotely take care of the ball, turning the ball over an astounding 27 times. They were worst when they needed to be best, with 19 turn overs in the second half and 10 in the final period.
Coaches like to say that it’s easier to teach after wins. What makes these losses so frustrating is that it’s obvious this Clippers team is learning. The defense, in particular, has been much improved. For the second consecutive game the Clippers held one of the NBA’s premiere offenses to under 90 points, and Blake and DeAndre were particularly effective at keeping a very potent Memphis front court out of the paint. But, as always it seems, the Clippers managed to find that magic number… the exact number of mistakes that can’t be overcome. The ability to do the opposite – to not make that last mistake, the one that seals defeat – is, I suppose, the elusive “knowing how to win.” Today, even after all the turnovers led to the Clips squandering a 12 point lead, the Clippers still had a chance to win the game, down one and coming out of a time out with the ball and five seconds left to play. The final play never really developed, however, and a double-teamed Baron Davis was forced into shooting up a prayer that wasn’t answered.
It wasn’t just the incredible number of turnovers that betrayed the Clipper cause tonight, but the nature of the turnovers themselves. Two things in particular stuck out for me.
Consecutive turnovers I remember an interview I read once with a chess champion, who was discussing what made Deep Blue, the chess playing supercomputer, such a formidable opponent. Basically, the chess player explained, Deep Blue can’t be rattled. You can take its queen and unlike a human opponent, who might become blinded by losing his best piece, it will simply spin and hum and make the next best move available. Good basketball teams are like this. Current possessions aren’t affected by previous ones.The goal every time down the floor is to make the best move available, take care of the ball, find the easy shot. With the Clippers, on the other hand, one turnover all too often seems to lead to another. Rather than slow down when things start to go wrong, they speed up, pushing the action just when they out to be regaining control, like a tilting poker player desperate to get even on the next hand. Tonight, there were three pairs of consecutive turnovers in the second half, and all three resulted in at least three Memphis points.
Terrible turnovers Not a technical term. But I watched the second half again and kept track of the truly terrible turnovers, the ones that owe more to bad decision making than any kind of good defensive play. Being stripped of the ball, carrying, dribbling off yourself… all mistakes made in service of a logical basketball move, in otherwords, were off the hook. In all, I counted ten “Terrible” turnovers, and eight of them were made by the three rookies. All five of Bledsoe’s were “terrible;” three were passes either to Tony Allen or directly out of bounds. Aminu tried to thread an impossible pass through traffic. Even Blake was guilty twice, first stripped after he tried to drive into a triple-team, and later picked off when he tried a underhand pass through the lane. In other words, with the game on the line, young guys are more likely to make decisions. I know this isn’t groundbreaking work… just interesting to see how easy it is to prove.
Some assorted game thoughts:
- Not a good night for people who think Eric Bledsoe should continue to start. Tonight, the plus/minus tells the story pretty accurately. The team was –14 with Bledsoe in the game and +13 with Baron at the controls. Bledsoe led the turnover parade with 5, and missed at least three shots right at the time as part of his scoreless 0-5. Baron didn’t have a flawless game. He threw away a few fast breaks, and he didn’t get anything close to a good look on the game’s final shot, but the team continues to more consistantly when he’s on the floor.
- How good has DeAndre Jordan been the past couple weeks. His play has been the lynchpin of the Clippers recent defensive play. He clogs the lane, alters shots, grabs rebounds, and runs the floor hard. He’s not fouling out of games. Plus, he’s developed a much better sense of spacing on offense. He knows his limitations, but he also nows how to get open for a lob if the defnse ignores him completely. If there’s a big man duo that slams home more put backs than DeAndre and Blake, I’d love to see it.
- Opening night against the Blazers, I sat in the same section with comedian and Clipper fan Chris Wylde. At one point Blake was pushed to the floor. In a high-pitched “hysterical” voice, Wylde screamed out “Don’t you touch him!” It got a big laugh, but the last few games I’ve found myself screaming those words at the TV completely unironically. The Andre Miller open field tackle was only the most blatant example of what seems to be a league-wide strategy to be get physical with Blake. We could start a Griffin Cheap Shot of the Game feature. The scariest moments are when he gets shoved in the air. He’ so high… my personal paranoia – wrists on the landing. I just hope the league’s power forwards that if they shove him in the back in the air and he gets hurt there is at least a 50/50 chance that some deranged Clipper fan could go Cathy Bates on him. Be forewarned, cheapos.
- OK. A quick story/Plea to Clipper Nation and I’ll wrap this up. I was watching the Sacramento game the other night at a quiet, distincly non-sports-bar in Los Feliz, and the bearded hipster bartender struck up a conversation with me about the Clippers. Now, I wouldn’t say this guy was an avid basketball fan, (He kept referring to our point guard, for instance, as “The Baron”) but he was eager to share his thought on Blake Griffin. “He’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, man. He’s like a unicorn.”
I was thinking about this during a first quarter today in which Blake Griffin: 1.) Hit a 17-foot fadeaway. 2.) Covered the area from three-point line to rack with one dribble, finishing with a left-handed slam. 3.) Brought the ball up on the break. 4.) Took a charge. 5.) Hit a striaght away 20 foot jumper like Dirk Nowitski. He’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. He is, indeed, like a unicorn.
I can’t think of an athlete in any sport today whose combination of dominance and uniqueness simply DEMANDS a good nickname more than Blake Griffin (with the exception, perhaps, of the excellently sobriqueted Tim “The Freak” Lincicum.) So… The Unicorn. Right?… Anyone?