If the Clippers were inspired by their trip to the Hoosier state — where there’s a deep appreciation for the artistry of basketball, a precisely executed backdoor cut or a defense that moves together on a string — it was hard to tell.
Instead, their work was the basketball equivalent of finger painting. The Clippers clanked more free throws than they made, got little of consequence from newcomer Nick Young in his first start and provided Indiana role players such as George Hill and Tyler Hansbrough an opportunity to take turns starring in a 102-89 Pacers victory.
“This was just an ugly game,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. “We’re going to scratch this one and get ready for tomorrow.”
That would be a trip to Oklahoma City, near Blake Griffin’s hometown, where the Clippers face the Western Conference leaders. That is followed by a trip to New Orleans, where Paul will play Thursday against his former team for the first time.
It was hard to find many reasons those homecomings will be happy based on the way the Clippers played against the Pacers. The good news, as they saw it, was that they were packing their bags — if not their baggage — and heading for the next stop.
“That’s the good thing about this league,” said Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who battled foul trouble again. “You play another game within 24 or 48 hours. You don’t have much time to think about what happened, why did you lose? You just move on.”
The Clippers hoped they were snapping out of a funk that began in early February, when Chauncey Billups was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. But back-to-back victories had been largely the result of Paul’s spectacular play at the end masking largely lackluster performances.
There would be no heroics Tuesday.
By the time Paul entered the game in the fourth quarter, the Clippers trailed by 19.
He did lead a surge that cut the deficit to 11 points on Mo Williams’ 3-pointer. But with 3:41 left, a Williams 3-point try that would have narrowed the gap to eight rimmed out.
“It felt good,” said Williams, who shook his head when the shot bounced out. “I thought it was in.”
At the other end, Hill sank a 27-footer with the shot clock winding down, and the Pacers, with a 14-point lead, never were threatened.
“George Hill was definitely a game changer tonight,” Paul said of the former San Antonio guard, who made 6 of 7 shots (including all three 3-pointers) and dished out six assists.
“I don’t remember him missing. He shot lights out when the shot clock was running down. We really didn’t have an answer.”
The Clippers didn’t have an answer for Hansbrough and new acquisition Leandro Barbosa, whose energy sparked Indiana. While Griffin had his way in the lane for the Clippers, with 23 points and 10 rebounds, neither he nor anyone else could do much to stop Hansbrough, who scored 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting, and drew two fouls by aggressively working for position under the boards.
Barbosa excelled at pushing the pace, and attacking the rim in his first game since arriving from Toronto.
The Clippers didn’t get nearly as much help from Young, who scored 13 points, but made just 1 of 6 3-pointers. He replaced Randy Foye, who was the only Clipper not to play, a decision coach Vinny Del Negro said was dictated by his desire to tighten the rotation and by matchups. With the tight schedule — the Clippers played their seventh game in 10 days — Del Negro said he is considering sitting players to rest them.
Young’s lone 3-pointer tied the score at 62, but Danny Granger hit a pair of 3-pointers in an 11-0 run that gave Indiana control for good. On one possession, Caron Butler missed a layup, Jordan missed a layup and a dunk, and Paul missed a 3-pointer.
When Paul’s fadeaway baseline jumper at the end of the third quarter was blocked by Louis Amundson, the two fell to the court and tussled — one of several dustups between the teams.
The Clippers insisted they were not frustrated, especially at being outworked.
What did frustrate them was their free-throw shooting, a longstanding problem. They are 29th in the league, a ranking that was not helped by making only 9 of 20 Tuesday. Griffin missed 5 of 7, Jordan missed both of his and Paul made only half of his six.
Griffin, who is a 55 percent free-throw shooter, was asked if he would keep practicing.