LOS ANGELES — The Clippers have played so well at home – and so impressively all season – that any loss is viewed as almost catastrophic. Saturday’s game might have been one of those occasions.
They were beaten by an inferior team, the Orlando Magic, in a game they controlled virtually the entire way. But in the final two minutes, they let the game slip away and saw the end to their 13-game winning streak at Staples Center.
Coach Vinny Del Negro called the 104-101 loss to the Magic “embarrassing.” Blake Griffin said it was “a bad loss.” Both of those were true, given Orlando’s 13-23 record and 10-game losing streak coming in, but it shows how far the Clippers have come.
In their horrid past, a narrow defeat would have been viewed as business as usual; in today’s new Clippers world, it’s considered an abject failure.
The Clippers hadn’t lost a home game since Nov. 26 when they fell to New Orleans. They’re still 18-4 this season at Staples, but it can be considered somewhat alarming that three of those defeats have come to bad teams: Cleveland, the Hornets and the Magic.
“The key is to not let it start a steak,” forward Lamar Odom said afterward. “That’s what championship teams do – one and done.”
That might be difficult. The Clippers’ biggest struggles have come on the road, despite their 10-5 record away from home, and now they’re about to begin a three-game trip to Memphis, Houston and Minnesota starting Monday. Over the next 4½ weeks, they play 14 of 17 games on the road.
If this game was a sign of tough times ahead, it didn’t start that way. The Clippers had a 12-2 lead in the first three minutes and were coasting 55-42 late in the first half. But the Magic played a spectacular final quarter, outscoring the Clippers 29-18 and hitting 52.4 percent of their shots.
At the suggestion of a letdown, guard Chris Paul said, “It was not a letdown. Don’t try to take anything away from them. We didn’t play hard enough. They hit tough shot after tough shot.”
JJ Redick certainly did, tying the game 99-99 with a drive and then drilling a three-point basket with 42.1 seconds for Orlando’s first lead of the game.
The Clippers made two errors late in the game. The first came when Magic center Nikola Vucevic was left open under the basket after the Clippers tried to trap Redick on an inbound play. Vucevic’s dunk gave Orlando a three-point lead.
The second came in the final moments when Griffin, who finished with 30 points and eight rebounds, got the ball but had difficulty finding Jamal Crawford for a three-point shot that would have tied the game. Crawford fired an off-balance attempt from 26 feet that missed.
“It doesn’t sit well at all,” Griffin said. “This was a bad loss, not to take anything away from them because they played well and they always play hard.
“Throughout the course of the game I didn’t think we played that poorly. There was times where we missed some shots and had some turnovers, but our turnovers were relatively low.”
Redick had 21 for Orlando, and former UCLA star Arron Afflalo added 30. Paul had 10 points, 4 steals and 16 assists, giving him 54 assists in his past four games. Grant Hill made his debut with the Clippers and played 6½ minutes but was 0 for 3 from the field and clearly needs to establish his rhythm offensively.
As they get ready to hit the road, the Clippers know they shouldn’t rest on what they’ve done this season. There are still too many games to play.
“We have to get back to what made us successful and what got us here to this point,” Griffin said. “That was our defensive intensity and everybody contributing and everybody having a fire out there.”