Clippers head coach Doc Rivers doesn’t believe in moral victories.
After leading the Memphis Grizzlies for a majority of the first three quarters on Monday night, the Clippers’ offense quickly unraveled in the final frame, and the relentless Grizzlies gritted out a 90-87 victory at Staples Center.
"I just didn’t think we had great offensive disciple tonight," Rivers said.
Some may say the fact the Clips were able to hang with the second-best team in the West without injured star Blake Griffin is a positive, but that’s not how Rivers views it.
"I want to win," Rivers said. "I think we should’ve won. … I expect to still win the game [without Griffin’, and I expected us to win."
The Clips gave one of their better defensive performances of the season, holding the Grizz to just 40.7 percent shooting overall and 5-of-15 shooting from deep (33.3 percent), and still had a chance to steal the game on their final possession.
But without Griffin, Memphis was able to key in on Chris Paul, ignoring the rest of the Clippers, and Mike Conley forced a costly turnover, effectively sealing the game.
Rivers’ pre-game comments were telling, as he used the old adage "styles make fights" when describing the differences between the Clippers and Grizzlies. The Clippers are more offensive-minded and want to play at a faster pace; the Grizzlies want to grind out a slow, ugly, defense-first contest.
Memphis ultimately got its way.
"It was tough to get a pace," Rivers said. "I didn’t like our movement, though, offensively. It was more of a dribble game for us, and I think that’s how Memphis wanted us to play."
With the loss, the Clips dropped to just 3-10 when they score less than 100 points, which is a troubling sign for the playoffs, when the pace tends to slow down and defense becomes more important.
Here are five takeaways from Monday’s game:
Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph do not like each other, and the hostile dynamic serves a microcosm of the greater philosophical differences between the Clippers and Grizzlies. Without Griffin, though, the matchup just didn’t feel the same. Randolph and Gasol love to initiate contact inside, but Jordan, Spencer Hawes and Glen "Big Baby" Davis don’t instigate confrontations the way Griffin does. While Chris Paul chirped at several Grizzlies, and the Clippers’ bench had a good laugh when Jordan dunked all over Gasol, tonight’s matchup was relatively tame.
As aforementioned, Rivers alluded to the stylistic differences between the Clippers and Grizzlies before the game, claiming the Grizzlies wanted to "mud wrestle" and slow the game down. Even though the Clips held their ground for most of the night, the pace always favored the Grizzlies, which kept them in the game no matter how poorly they were shooting. The Clips’ inability to force turnovers and get on the break allowed Memphis to set its defense, which is a death knell for any offense — even one as good as the Clips’.
The return of the Point God
When Griffin got injured, everyone expected Paul, not Jordan, to be the main Clipper to step up. Instead, Jordan stole the spotlight and has looked like and All-NBA-caliber player. Paul was due for a big game, and he asserted himself as a scoring threat early on whenever the Grizzlies played off him. Memphis mixed up its coverage on Paul, using Mike Conley, Nick Calathes and Courtney Lee, but it was to no avail. Paul claimed 30 points, 4 rebounds and 10 assists. The Point God has an extra gear he can reach when he so chooses, and tonight was one of those nights. Unfortunately, he ran out of gas on the final possession.
Containing Big Spain
Chris Paul has double-double but has defining last-second turnover
Last time Marc Gasol saw the Clippers, he torched them for 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting and 12 rebounds in Memphis. DeAndre Jordan had a particularly tough time defending him, and only managed 2 points and 3 rebounds. Jordan did a much better job on Monday, limiting Gasol to just 14 points and 6 rebounds, and collecting 9 points and 17 rebounds himself. Still, the attention Gasol commands offensively was a large part of the reason the Grizz were able to dissect the Clippers’ D in the second half. "He’s just a very difficult guy to game-plan for," Rivers said. "He’s just a tough guy to guard."
Looking on the bright side
The Clippers are now 4-2 without Griffin, which is acceptable given their competition during the six-game stretch — especially when their two losses are to the Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder, two legitimate threats to make the Western Conference Finals. Outside of the Thunder game, the Clips have been competitive in every contest, which is all they can ask for without their leading scorer and second-best passer. Rivers is correct — there are no moral victories in the NBA — but the Clippers are currently playing above everyone else’s expectations, regardless of their own.