It didn’t take long Sunday afternoon before Clippers coach Doc Rivers was asked the question that has become common during the team’s hot start.
How are you doing this?
By now, Rivers has his answer down pat. The Clippers, amid their march to the Western Conference’s top winning percentage, are deep and indefatigable. They have scrappers in lieu of a superstar. The locker room believed long before outsiders did.
It’s tough to play the no-respect card anymore. If the Clippers began as a nice story, they haven’t gone away at the regular-season’s quarter-pole mark and the drumbeat of praise has grown steadier and louder.
The success spurred another question: How does a team that views itself at home on the blacktop of a playground keep its edge after ascending to the West’s penthouse?
“We haven’t proven anything,” Rivers said before tipoff. “What have we done? We’ve won some games. All you have to do is listen to TV. They’ll get their edge back because everyone’s telling them it won’t last.”
Their four-game winning streak, at least, didn’t last Sunday. After recent up-and-down performances against Phoenix and Sacramento, teams well below them in the standings, inconsistency finally caught up with the Clippers in a 114-110 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.
The Clippers led by one point after Lou Williams answered with a three-pointer, but trailing 110-110 with 28.3 seconds left, Williams’ pass was stolen by Jordan at the three-point line and was fouled. A career 45% free-throw shooter now shooting 77% from the foul line in his first season in Dallas, Jordan made one of two shots for a two-point lead. Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. iced the victory by blocking Tobias Harris’ turnaround jumper in the post with 12 seconds left.
The loss wasn’t for lack of an edge, but execution.
The Clippers fought back from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead in the final minutes, but in the final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter L.A. turned the ball over once and missed its last three shots.
“This was a game we needed to make open shots, because we had a ton of them,” Rivers said. “If you think about the shots at the end of the game, wide-open threes, post-ups. It is what it is. You can’t do it. They’re human. I thought they came to perform tonight, it just didn’t work out.”
After shooting a season-low 27.7%, Tobias Harris left the locker room quicker than he has all season.
Inside, guard Patrick Beverley tried to remain calm describing an exchange with a fan that resulted in his ejection three minutes into the fourth quarter. The fan insulted Beverley and his mother, Beverley and Rivers said, and Beverley responded by bouncing a pass into the feet of the fan, who sat courtside.
“You’ve got to turn the other cheek even though I know it’s hard,” Rivers said. “But we can’t get technical. We just have to walk away. And the league has to take care of stuff like that.”
Montrezl Harrell played through shoulder pain after being knocked to the court hard twice in the second half and scored a team-high 23 points with 10 rebounds. Danilo Gallinari and Williams each scored 21 points for the Clippers (15-7), who turned the ball over only 10 times, six fewer than Dallas (11-10), and stayed within four points on second-chance opportunities despite the 17-8 disparity in offensive rebounds. But nine of Dallas’ 15 second-chance points came in the fourth quarter.
“It was a game we should have won,” Williams said. “We didn’t do a lot of things our style of play. It’s not one of those games you really dwell on. You understand that a lot of the issues we had tonight were self-inflicted. You go through that during the season and gotta have a short memory span when you’ve got another game tomorrow.”