To yank DeAndre Jordan or not to yank him?
That was the question facing Clippers Coach Doc Rivers on Saturday night at Staples Center as the fouls and the missed free throws mounted in the fourth quarter.
Rivers finally pulled his center, replacing him with Wesley Johnson as part of a small lineup that gave up a key offensive rebound and putback during the Atlanta Hawks' 107-97 victory over the Clippers.
It also didn't help that the Clippers continually turned the ball over and missed shots.
Jordan was removed from the game for 21/2 minutes after being repeatedly fouled away from the ball in the second half. He made five of 12 free throws in that situation, about the only negative on a night when he had 17 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and four steals.
The Clippers trailed by five points when he came out with 3:47 to play, and they never got closer.
Rivers initially looked down his bench and yelled "Cole!" when he decided to remove Jordan before reversing course and inserting Johnson instead of Cole Aldrich. "More shooting," Rivers said of his reasoning.
The Clippers were largely undone by their 19 turnovers and inability to make shots after building an 88-82 lead early in the fourth quarter. Point guard Chris Paul committed turnovers on consecutive possessions and the Clippers made only six of 20 shots in the fourth.
"I had some bad turnovers tonight," said Paul, who had 17 points and 11 assists. "We let this one go."
It felt like the inverse of a wild comeback three days earlier in which the Clippers wiped out a 14-point deficit in the final five minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But their three-game winning streak came to an inglorious end after Paul Millsap made a putback and finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds for the Hawks, who won for the second time in two nights after beating the Lakers on Friday.
Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute missed a second consecutive game because of a lacerated left eyelid, and Rivers didn't exactly sound like the defensive-minded small forward's return was imminent.
Jeff Green replaced Mbah a Moute in the starting lineup and scored 10 points in the first quarter before finishing with 14. Rivers said Mbah a Moute would not play against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday and might not accompany the Clippers on the two-game trip that also includes a game against the Thunder on Wednesday.
Rivers said he felt his team lost Saturday's game late in the first half when a lead that had been as large as 17 points shrank to five by halftime
Clippers reserve guard Austin Rivers spent a few minutes before the game clarifying comments he had made on Fox Sports radio the previous day about the team's ball movement related to injured star forward Blake Griffin.
"You've got to understand, because we haven't played with Blake, our ball movement has been a lot better," Rivers said during the radio interview. "I think we learned a mutual thing where it's like, 'All right, listen Blake, since you've been out, we've learned to move the ball better, so when you come back, we're still going to play like that. But now we have you back, we're still going to play through you at the same time.' So I think we both have learned things."
Rivers also said during the interview that the Clippers were clearly better with Griffin in the lineup.
Before the game, Rivers expanded on what he had said on the radio.
"Obviously, we're a better team with Blake," he said. "Without Blake, we have to move the ball better. It's like if Cleveland played without LeBron [James], they would have to figure out a way to move the ball because their best player's not playing. It's just common sense. That's all I meant by it."