LOS ANGELES – The Clippers were a dysfunctional team Monday night, outworked and outplayed virtually from start to finish by the New Orleans Hornets. It might have been reasonable to assume their first game back at Staples Center after a horrendous road trip would be a triumphant return, but it wasn’t even close.
Whatever coach Vinny Del Negro told his players in the privacy of their locker room, he held nothing back when he spoke to reporters afterward.
In fact, “embarrassing” is the word he used to describe the 105-98 loss to the Hornets at Staples Center. But that was just for starters.
“We got nothing from our bigs tonight, we got nothing really from our bench, we got nothing from anybody,” he said. The Hornets “set the tone. They went where they wanted, when they wanted. They got to the line. We settled for jump shots. We didn’t attack them like we should have.
“You get what you deserve, and we deserved to get beat.”
All of a sudden, the Clippers’ 8-2 start feels like a distant memory. They lost the final three games on a four-game trip that had a promising start, and now they’ve fallen into a ditch after losing to a New Orleans team that had lost nine of its first 12 games.
The Hornets shot 51 percent for the game, scored 30 points in the paint and made 15 of 25 three-point shots. Defensively, the Clippers rarely contested shots.
“Our defense was terrible,” guard Chris Paul said. “It’s almost embarrassing. Teams feel like they can come down and score on us every night. We can’t play like that because we won’t win. Regardless if we’re scoring or not collectively, we have to defend.”
Scoring has not been an issue, but in Blake Griffin’s case it was. The Clippers forward was held to a career-low four points and made just 1 of 9 shots before fouling out in the fourth quarter. He was held scoreless in the first half, only the second time he’s gone without a point in a half.
“I just missed shots tonight,” he said. “It’s on me. It’s not a part of the offense. It’s nobody’s fault but mine.”
The game turned into a three-point contest. The Clippers converted 18 of 37 three-pointers, giving the teams a combined 33, an NBA record for a regulation game. The Clippers’ total set a team record, as did Caron Butler, who converted 9 of 15 threes and finished with 33 points.
The Clippers also victimized themselves with a lack of composure. In the third period, reserve forward Matt Barnes was called for a flagrant foul for throwing an elbow in the chest of Hornets forward Jason Smith and compounded matters when he complained and was assessed a technical foul. Smith made three free throws and then scored on a drive to the basket, giving the Hornets an 81-70 lead.
The Clippers tried to rally in the final 1:10 of the game when they were down 101-95, but they missed five consecutive three-point attempts – two by Barnes and one each by Paul, Butler and Jamal Crawford.
It was that kind of night, miserable in every way.
“We have to take more pride in our play, whether we’re at home or on the road,” said Paul, who had 20 points, eight assists and four steals. “Guys can’t look in our eyes and feel like they can get by. We’ve got to play with a better sense of urgency and understand that when teams that are supposedly not that great come into our city, we’ve got a target on our back.”
If they didn’t know it they, they surely know it now.