The L.A. Clippers hung tough with the Orlando Magic last night, enjoying a four-point halftime lead, but had no answer for Orlando once its three-pointers started falling after intermission, and finally lost by a 101-85 score. Baron Davis emerged from his shell with 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but the real story for the Clippers was Blake Griffin donning an invisibility cloak as he struggled to get involved in the offense. The rookie sensation tied a career-low with just 10 points, shooting 4 of 12 from the field, never really factoring into the game.
Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel pointed out the Magic double- and triple-teamed Griffin throughout the game, with Ryan Anderson and Earl Clark getting the initial assignment and Dwight Howard, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, providing help from the weak side. As a result, Griffin used 18 possessions, according to McCann, to provide his 10 points and one assist.
This defensive treatment is what Griffin can expect for the foreseeable future, as the Clippers' lone offensive threat until Eric Gordon--who leads the team with 24.1 points per game--and Chris Kaman return to the lineup. Gordon, whose side pick-and-rolls with Griffin are real bears to defend, is expected to miss another week or two with a sprained right wrist and a bone chip fracture, while Kaman, who's made only 10 appearance this season, is out indefinitely with a bone bruise and a sprained left ankle.
Apart from Griffin, the Clippers start Davis, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, and DeAndre Jordan. Jordan, the seven-foot center, averages 6.8 points per game on 67.3 percent shooting, almost entirely on dunks, layups, and tip-ins; he needs setting up. Those three perimeter players, then, combine to shoot 40.3 percent from the field. Thus, there's little incentive for opposing defenses to stick to them when Griffin, averaging 22.6 points on 51.2 percent shooting, lurks inside.
While it's true that no other team can throw a defender of Howard's caliber at Griffin while similarly keeping Jordan in check--he scored four points in 26 minutes against Orlando--it's also true that Clippers opponents will continue doubling and tripling Griffin until another Clipper starts hitting his shots consistently.
To wit: in his game recap, Clips Nation editor and SB Nation L.A. contributor Steve Perrin noted the Clippers "found wide open shooters all game long" against the Magic, but "they missed the wide open shots." The scouting service Synergy Sports Technology, which tracks and classifies every play from every NBA game, supports Perrin's claim, noting L.A. attempted 25 open jump shots Tuesday night; the Magic contested the only other Clipper jumper attempt. If opponents are going to let the Clippers take 25 open shots for every contested one, their shooters are going to have to convert. Period.
Griffin's obviously a great player well deserving of his All-Star roster spot and the accompanying hype. He's the real deal. But the loss to Orlando, and the swarming defense he saw within it, shows he can't carry this team to victory alone. Help is on the way fairly soon, with Gordon returning perhaps after the All-Star Break, but until then, Griffin and the Clippers will simply have to cope.