The Clippers closed a home-heavy portion of their schedule looking like a team in need of a getaway. They couldn’t defend or make the shots they needed in the final minutes of a 107-97 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night at Staples Center. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. The Clippers lost a game they once led by 17 points. A good start was followed by a lackluster middle and ending for the Clippers as they failed to build on their emotional comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder three days earlier. “We just didn’t have ‘it’ tonight,” said Clippers point guard Chris Paul, whose 17 points and 11 assists were somewhat offset by his four turnovers and his making six of 16 shots. “It’s tough. It’s too late in the season to have letdowns like we had tonight, but being up 17 on a team and letting them back in it, we can’t have it.” The ability to sustain good play has been an ongoing issue for the Clippers. “We had it at the beginning of the game,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said, “but we have to have it for 48 minutes, and we didn’t.”
2. The Hawks effectively utilized the intentional fouling strategy. They used it in both the third and fourth quarters, mostly while leading in the game. “Every time they got a lead they used it, and that’s the way you actually are supposed to do it instead of when you’re down,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought they did that. I thought it was effective.” Rivers removed Jordan for 2 1/2 minutes late in the game so that they parade of free throws couldn’t continue after he had made five of 12 while being intentionally fouled and the move largely backfired. Rivers said he went with Wesley Johnson to provide more shooting, but it also left the Clippers with less rebounding. Atlanta’s Paul Millsap made a putback to help the Hawks extend their lead and pull away. “You want to play and compete, but I’ll live with Doc’s decision and run with it,” Jordan said. “I have to be able to make the free throws and be able to make at least one out of two for the team, but at the end of the day we have to get stops, which we didn’t. They made us work throughout the shot clock and they got a lot of offensive rebounds and we ended up giving up a lead, which is tough.”
3. Too many players had off nights for the Clippers to win. J.J. Redick made four of 13 shots and two of seven three-pointers. Wesley Johnson and Jamal Crawford combined to make three of 13 shots. Five bench players combined for only 28 points. The Clippers also had trouble defensively. “Our defense let us down,” Paul said. “Our offense, we had a lot more turnovers than we usually have, but at the end of the day we have to be a better defensive team.” Paul also criticized his inability to fight through ball screens. “I let the guards just move freely,” Paul said. “I feel like Dennis [Schroder] and [Jeff] Teague had a field day just getting it where they wanted to.” Teague and Schroder combined for 38 points.
4. Atlanta’s trapping of the Clippers’ guards also worked. The Hawks continually trapped Paul, Redick and Crawford, disrupting the Clippers’ offense and leading to turnovers. “[Atlanta] trapped those three to try to string our offense out, and I thought it worked,” Rivers said. “I didn’t think we moved it well from the traps, but then even when we did, we didn’t get anything out of it, so I thought that worked.”
5. Jordan will get to feel the “love” again in Dallas on Monday during the first game of the Clippers’ two-game trip. The player who spurned the Mavericks in free agency will be making his second trip back to Dallas since backing out of his five-day commitment in free agency this summer. “For us, it should be another game, but I’m sure the crowd will remember forever,” Rivers said. “But I don’t think it’s going to be as big a deal as it was the first time.” The decibel level back in November didn’t seem to bother Jordan. “It was another game the first game.” The Clippers will close the trip with a game against Oklahoma City, whom they are chasing for third place in the Western Conference standings.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch