They once were hip, young and exciting, a high-flying and crowd-pleasing team that sometimes overwhelmed opponents with play that was as skillful as it was jaw dropping. Now the Clippers are just another bad team that’s hit bottom.
Their recent lackluster play was best expressed by a small group of grumpy fans in the early minutes of a bland 94-86 loss Sunday afternoon to the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center.
“We [stink], we [stink],” some in the crowd of 17,158 chanted as the last-place Clippers fell behind the Spurs, 12-2, missing their first five shots and 13 of their first 15 en route to their sixth consecutive loss and eighth in their last nine.
Soon enough, boos drowned out the off-color chanting, but the message was clear. The Clippers aren’t fooling anyone, least of all a veteran team such as the Spurs.
San Antonio all but begged the Clippers to shoot from the perimeter, knowing they can’t do it without Eric Piatkowski and Marko Jaric (on the injured list because of abdominal and ankle injuries) and Quentin Richardson (sidelined by a sprained left ankle). The Spurs swarmed center Michael Olowokandi and power forward Elton Brand and took their chances with the rest of the misfiring Clippers.
The Clippers’ 29-for-86 shooting (33.7%) doomed them to their 22nd defeat in 34 games. They got only six points from their reserves. They also couldn’t stop the Spurs’ guards, especially Tony Parker, who scored a team-leading 26 points on seven-for-14 shooting with six assists and five rebounds.
It’s not the first time this season a point guard has torched the Clippers.
Andre Miller, whose arrival from Cleveland in an off-season trade was much anticipated, was left spinning by Parker and, incredibly enough, by 37-year-old Steve Kerr. Miller had 12 points on four-for-14 shooting (dropping to 41.6% for the season) with five assists and three rebounds.
“Every time Tony Parker plays at that level, they’re not going to lose,” Clipper Coach Alvin Gentry said. “We’ve got to do a better job of containing him. We let him get into the paint area too easily. We’ve not done a good job of keeping [opposing] perimeter guys on the perimeter.”
As usual, the Clippers were befuddled by the opposition’s pick-and-roll, with Parker getting acres of space after Tim Duncan picked for him, then rolled into an equally wide-open patch of court. Duncan had 24 points and 14 rebounds.
“Our guards have to fight over the screen and get in a position to recover,” Gentry said. “We’re not getting beat because teams are pounding the ball inside against us.”
The Clippers did a credible job against Duncan, David Robinson and Malik Rose down low. It was from the perimeter that the Clippers were shredded by Parker and Bruce Bowen, who scored nine of his 13 points in the third quarter.
The Clippers stuck around after facing an early 10-point deficit, but never led by more than 40-37 after Olowokandi’s turnaround jumper with 11:11 left in the third quarter. They never led in the fourth, although they never trailed by more than 94-84 after Parker made two free throws in the closing seconds.
“We’re not finishing plays,” forward Lamar Odom said. “I can think of four or five layups that I missed today. A couple of times, I thought I had an assist today and the plays didn’t get finished. We’re not doing the basic fundamental things to win a basketball game.”
Odom was about all the Clippers had going for them late. With Olowokandi and Brand struggling to find operating room, Odom slashed his way to 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.
Brand finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Olowokandi had 12 points (on five-for-19 shooting) and nine rebounds.
“It’s hard for us because we throw it down to Mike and Elton and they usually shoot about 50% form the field, but some nights it’s not going to fall,” said forward Corey Maggette, who had 19 points on five-for-13 shooting. “We’ve just got to continue to work and work. We need to fix it and get on a roll. We have to stay in the gym [if that’s what it takes].”