Who would have thought, entering a week with three games against teams that missed the playoffs last season and a fourth game in San Antonio, that the Los Angeles Clippers would finish the week 1-3 -- with the one win being against the Spurs. The Clippers had not won in San Antonio in over a decade, having lost 17 in a row in the Alamo City. But even that rarest of wins couldn't really make up for what was a very disappointing week.
The Clippers have developed a very bad habit lately. In all three losses, they were lifeless and disinterested for most of the first three quarters. They've been a poor defensive team all season, but early in their three losses this week, the defense was much worse than poor -- it was non-existent. They allowed the Timberwolves to shoot 53 percent in the first quarter and take a 10 point lead. New Jersey shot 59 percent in the first half to build up a 12 point halftime lead. Golden State made 61 percent of their first half shots, and led by 14 at the break.
|Monday: Timberwolves 95, Clippers 94|
|Wednesday: Nets 101, Clippers 100|
|Friday: Clippers 120, Spurs 108|
|Sunday: Warriors 97, Clippers 93|
In all three of those games, the Clippers allowed their deficit to get bigger and bigger, before finally getting serious some time late in the third quarter. In each game, they battled all the way back -- and then stumbled at or near the end to lose the game.
In Minnesota, they trailed by as many as 15 and by 11 early in the fourth quarter. They clamped down on defense at that point, and got to within three with five seconds left. Chris Paul was fouled shooting a three pointer, and with just over a second on the clock, stepped to the line for three free throws with a chance to tie the game. He made the first two and missed the third and the Clippers lost by a point.
Two nights later in New Jersey it was a similar story. This time LA fell behind by 18 midway through the third quarter. Once again, they finally started playing some defense, which allowed them to steadily chip away at the lead. They seemed to complete the come back when Paul made a pair of free throws with nine seconds left for a two point lead. But some egregiously bad defense on the final possession left Jordan Farmar wide open at the three point line, and once again the Clippers lost by a point.
It was more or less the same story against Golden State on Sunday night. Clippers defense was a no show for three quarters, LA fell behind big -- this time by 21 late in the third quarter. A furious run got the Clippers back in the game at 83-83 with four minutes to go -- and then they allowed the Warriors to go on an 8-1 run to secure the win.
Do the Clippers think they are good enough to meander through a half or more of basketball and then flip a switch and win the game when they finally get serious? If they do, the events of the last week have demonstrated that they are sadly mistaken. They'd better start showing up for the start of games or they're going to struggle the rest of the season. As it is they've already lost the Pacific Division lead to the Lakers, and have dropped to fifth in the Western Conference standings.
Even that rare road win in San Antonio couldn't erase the sting of three bad losses -- but it helped. The Clippers had already snapped a 16 game road losing streak in Utah earlier this season. This time they ended a 17 game road losing streak. The game against the Spurs was great fun -- but unfortunately, it probably isn't much of a blue print for success. Paul (36) and Mo Williams (33) combined for 69 points, and in general, the Clippers simply could not miss from the perimeter. Williams made 7 of 9 three pointers against the Spurs -- against the Warriors, when the Clippers could really have used a little more offense, he was 1 for 8 from the field for three points.
Perhaps no Clipper exemplified the week better than Caron Butler. Through the All Star break, the Clippers' new small forward had been the model of consistency. In his first 24 games as a Clipper, he scored in double figures 21 times. But in the last 12 games, he's scored in double figures just four times. In the three losses last week, he was 0 for 6, 1 for 6 and 0 for 6 and scored a total of three points. The Clippers have a non-scorer in DeAndre Jordan starting a center, a non-scorer in Reggie Evans coming off the bench, and lost one of their better scorers when Chauncey Billups was injured -- they can't afford for Butler to completely disappear for entire games.
It's a busy week coming up for the team. Monday's loss marked the beginning of the busiest 12 days you will ever see for an NBA team -- the Clippers play nine games in those dozen days. This week they finish out their season-longest six game home stand as the host Boston on Monday, Atlanta Wednesday, Phoenix Thursday, Houston on Saturday and Detroit Sunday. They'll need to show up when the games start, unlike last week.
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