5 things: Clips’ inconsistency dooms them vs. Hawks
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers resents crediting his team’s opponent for affecting the outcome of a game, and instead, prefers using self-reflection when assessing why his team won or lost.
If the Clippers allow a slew of uncontested 3-pointers, or turn the ball over incessantly, Rivers wants to break down what his team did wrong; not what the opponent did right. That level of self-analysis can be harsh at times, but it’s certainly necessary for a Clippers squad that has struggled putting together any semblance of consistency.
Heading into Monday’s matchup with the scorching-hot Atlanta Hawks, Rivers looked past the fact that the Hawks — winners of 18 of their last 20 games heading into Monday’s contest — have been the best team in basketball the last few weeks, choosing to focus on his team’s execution, which would ultimately dictate the game’s fate in his eyes.
So, looking at the Clippers’ 107-98 loss from Rivers’ perspective, and disregarding the countless things the Hawks did exceptionally well, it’s clear why L.A. came up short: they couldn’t take care of the ball (21 turnovers, a season high), and they couldn’t defend the 3-point line (the Hawks shot 13-of-27, 48.1 percent).
"We lost the game because we turned the ball over and gave them easy shots," Rivers said. "Eventually the dam broke. When we started turning the ball over our spirit dropped, and then that was the game."
The problems all stem back to a lack of consistency, which has the plagued the Clippers all season, and undermined them against the NBA’s elite.
"We just have to be more consistent," Chris Paul said. "We play well in stretches, but the good teams do what they do both defensively and offensively. We have not done that."
The Clippers had their chances to put the Hawks away early or come back late, as Rivers & Co. were quick to remind everyone, but they couldn’t string together a run for longer than a few minutes, and the Hawks eventually caught fire and torched them.
"It is frustrating, not being able to extend leads and close out games when you’re up in the third and second [quarters] and not able to maintain the lead, especially at home," Blake Griffin said.
Griffin led all scorers with 26 points, and added 10 rebounds and 6 assists. DeAndre Jordan claimed 15 points, 16 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 blocks. Though Paul finished with 10 assists and 6 rebounds, he only scored 10 points, and admitted to not being aggressive enough after the game.
Here are five takeaways from Monday’s game:
No bullets in the chamber
The Clippers are second in 3-point makes per game and percentage, so for them to struggle so mightily tonight (7 of 25, 28.0 percent) was uncharacteristic, and reminiscent of earlier in the season, when they simply missed a ton of good open shots. J.J. Redick was unstoppable inside the arc, shooting 4-for-5, but couldn’t hit from deep (1 of 4). The bench really struggled from beyond the arc, finishing 4 of 14. Chalk this performance up to random bad luck. "We missed open shots," Rivers said. "I don’t mind that."
Too many "blowbys"
On the other end of the floor, the Hawks’ ability to trot out four or five 3-point shooters at almost all times stretched the Clippers’ defense to the point of constantly breaking. When Jeff Teague was able to penetrate into the teeth of the defense, or Al Horford facilitated from the top of the key, Atlanta was able to kick out to Kyle Korver, dump off inside to Paul Millsap, or find a cutting DeMarre Carroll. Rivers calls undeterred drives into the paint "blowbys," and there were at least a dozen or so Monday — far too many, resulting in the Hawks’ absurd shooting numbers.
Forcing the issue
Much like the Golden State Warriors, the Hawks have insane length at nearly every positions, and those types of teams can disrupt the Clips’ offensive flow. The Hawks were able to unexpectedly tip and intercept passes, and used their collective length to collapse on the paint any time a Clipper was within arm’s reach. The Clippers also hurt themselves by overpassing, and finished with 21 turnovers, a season high. "We forced a lot of passes," Rivers said. "Our guys were trying to make plays, but too many."
Good but not great?
With the loss, the Clippers dropped to 7-9 against opponents with above .500 records as of the day they played the Clippers. For a team hoping to win four straight playoff series against four 50-plus-win teams — with all four series likely on the road, as it currently stands — this is a troubling sign. As Rivers often alludes to, the Clips can play with and beat anyone when they’re clicking. The problem is they just haven’t played well that frequently; they’ve skidded by bad-to-average teams, and struggled against the league’s elite. That’s not a recipe for playoff success, no matter how positive Rivers tries to spin their record.
Tonight, it was the turnovers and allowed 3-pointers. Other nights, it’s too many fouls and opponent free throws. Sometimes, it’s offensive rebounds. More often than not, it’s some defensive-related issue, though the diagnosis varies. The Clippers seem to have different problems arising in every loss, and it’s disconcerting. If there was one glaring hole, it could likely be fixed through a trade, a signing or coaching. But there are various weaknesses popping up left and right, exposing the faults of a team many picked to win it all in the preseason.