When the Clippers were up by eight points, 98-90, against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday with only 1 minute and 11 seconds left, they assumed the game was in the bag.
How could they not.
The Clippers entered Monday’s game in third place in the Western Conference, having won seven of their last eight games. Not to mention the last time when these teams played, the Nets didn’t exactly pose much of a challenge. The Clippers steamrolled them on Jan. 22, 123-84.
So in that final minute, their defense wasn’t as sharp as usual. Their offense lagged a bit. Their focus swayed.
The Nets capitalized on the Clippers’ lack of intensity, going on a 10-0 run in the final 71 seconds of the game. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Alan Anderson made consecutive three pointers. Anderson was fouled on his attempt and completed the four-point play to give the Nets a 100-98 lead with 15.3 seconds left.
“I thought we let our guard down,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said.
It’s a common theme for the Clippers, who seem to often step up and play great basketball against good teams while sometimes allowing easy wins to slip past them.
It is the second time that this phenomenon has occurred on this road trip alone.
The night before the Clippers beat the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, 105-85, they lost to the middle-of-the-pack New Orleans Pelicans, 108-103.
Rivers said that it’s not necessarily a mental slip or a lack of effort.
“I swear these are humans playing and sometimes they want to play well and they miss shots,” he said.
The Clippers are now 2-2 on the “Grammy” trip. In the tight Western Conference, where just a few games separate the top teams, the Clippers went from being in sixth place, to fifth, to third, to fifth in the past week.
They play Thursday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are in fifth place in the East with a record of 30-20. Then they play at Toronto (33-16), Oklahoma (24-24) and Dallas (33-17).
The Clippers have one good thing going for them on this exhausting trip.
“We have hard games left,” Rivers said.