Clippers can learn from Love, Timberwolves
LOS ANGELES -- If it had been the other way around, maybe the ball would have been in Blake Griffin's hands. But it wasn't.
The inbounds pass went to Kevin Love. He squared himself to the basket, put up a shot from 28 feet and watched it drop through the net.
A matchup of rising young power forwards Friday night came down to the last shot, the last second, the Staples Center crowd on its feet and the game on the line.
It was a moment made for Griffin, but it was Love – the former UCLA star – who made the winning shot that brought the Minnesota Timberwolves back and stole a game from the Los Angeles Clippers.
Maybe this is the kind of game that becomes a learning point for a team. Maybe the Clippers will look back later this season and say they grew as a result of their 101-98 defeat to the Timberwolves.
But for now, it feels like a dagger. They had the game in their grasp until Ricky Rubio, the kid from Spain, made a three-point shot from the corner – his only basket of the game – with 20 seconds left. And then Love sealed it.
"With a second and a half to go, we thought that was our best opportunity for a wide-open look," Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said.
The marquee matchup between Griffin and Love never quite materialized. Griffin was 7 of 17 shooting; Love was 5 of 16. Griffin finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but he missed his chance to extend the Clippers' lead to six points when he couldn't sink a pair of free throws with 1:01 remaining.
Love scored 17 points and added 14 rebounds but he also missed two shots in the final 1:44 that could have pushed Minnesota closer. But those were distant memories after his buzzer heroics.
"Much ado about nothing," Love said of going head-to-head against Griffin. "I didn't really match up with him too much. We put (center) Darko (Milicic) on him, who's one of the premier defenders and shot-blockers in this league.
"(Griffin's) a load down there. He's one of the top 10 players in the league and he's great at his position. He gets to the line a lot and he really puts the defense in a tough position every time he catches the ball. He's 22, 23 years old; he's only going to get better. I give him all the praise in the world."
There wasn't much praise coming out of the Clippers' locker room. They led by 15 points at one time and had a six-point lead with 3:27 to play.
But their defense failed at crucial times. It's becoming a common theme.
"We turned it over too much," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We didn't execute when we needed to or make any shots. We didn't make any stops when we needed to. We weren't locked in defensively at the end of the game."
The Clippers played without Caron Butler, who has a hyperextended right knee. Point guard Chris Paul missed his fourth consecutive game because of a strained left hamstring. But they got a big contribution from backup guard Mo Williams, who totaled 25 points but was ejected in the fourth period after picking up his second technical foul.
He was long gone by the time Rubio, who had missed his first 10 shots of the game, drilled a three-pointer to tie the game, setting up Love's winner.
"Ricky Rubio is unbelievable," Adelman said. "He's unflappable. He missed every shot, then he makes the big three to tie it. That's what these guys are trying to learn. If we play as a team and play together, we have a chance to win."
The Clippers could have secured the win in the closing seconds, but Chauncey Billups missed a layup and Love rebounded, giving Minnesota a chance for a final shot. Then he took an inbounds pass from Luke Ridnour, stepped back and found himself alone after Clippers center DeAndre Jordan dropped behind a screen.
"I got triple-screened, and he made the shot," Jordan said. "We didn't finish the game like we were supposed to. We let them hang around and we got beat."
Those things happen. Now the Clippers have to figure out how to recover.