Clippers suffer a dispiriting loss to struggling, short-handed New Orleans Pelicans, 109-105
The directives were spelled out in red and black on a whiteboard inside the Clippers’ locker room before the game.
Have a defense-first mind-set. Hold the New Orleans Pelicans to under 100 points. Learn from last night.
It was a failure on all fronts.
The Clippers were granted a do-over against another severely outmanned team Sunday at the Smoothie King Center only to suffer a repeat of their passive performance the previous day.
Not even a crazy comeback in which the Clippers had a chance to tie the score in the final seconds was any consolation after a 109-105 loss sunk them into their deepest funk since late November.
The Clippers (43-26) have lost four of five games, the last two against struggling teams missing half their roster. That won’t be an issue in the finale of their five-game trip on Wednesday against a Golden State team that’s unbeaten on its home court.
Give the Clippers some credit. At least they didn’t trot out the easy excuses of tired legs on the second night of a back-to-back situation and an over-reliance on three-pointers.
“I just think our spirit isn’t great right now,” said shooting guard J.J. Redick, whose 24 points on nine-for-11 shooting were quickly forgotten. “We’ve just got to be more together and fight more. You can talk about Xs and O’s all you want, but as a player you can feel it when your spirit isn’t right.”
Redick said he wasn’t worried because this is the sort of thing teams go through during a season. It will right itself at some point, he contended.
“It could come back in a day, it could come back in two days, two weeks,” Redick said. “It’s a hard thing to predict.”
Something that’s easier to pinpoint: the Clippers’ sagging defense and energy. They have given up an average of 110 points over their last five games and seem less bouncy all the way around. Center DeAndre Jordan grabbed nine rebounds Sunday, giving him single digits in that category in consecutive games for the first time this season.
New Orleans was missing five of its top six scorers but didn’t have much trouble putting the ball in the basket as six players scored in double figures, including all five starters.
The Pelicans looked like they were headed to a runaway victory when they led, 102-88, with a little more than two minutes to play. Clippers guard Austin Rivers pounded a courtside table in frustration and a fan yelled to Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, “Doc, this team isn’t going anywhere!”
Actually, they were headed for an epic comeback. An unconventional lineup featuring four guards forced turnovers and traded in the three-point attempts for drives to the basket. Jordan took a bounce pass from Chris Paul for a dunk on which he was fouled with 27 seconds left before stepping to the free-throw line with a chance to tie the score.
The Clippers had another chance to tie, but Austin Rivers missed a three-point try with 1.5 seconds left and the Pelicans grabbed the rebound before being fouled. Ballgame.
It felt like the proper ending on a night when the Clippers shot 10 for 39 from three-point range (25.6%). Austin Rivers missed all five of his shots from beyond the arc and Wesley Johnson went 0 for 6.
Injury-ravaged New Orleans didn’t seem like it had a chance when it announced before the game that it had shut down All-Star forward Anthony Davis for the season because of a left knee injury and a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
The Pelicans were also missing Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter, among others, prompting Coach Alvin Gentry to joke that he would play Clippers broadcaster Michael Smith, a former NBA power forward who played his final game in 1995.
Maybe the Clippers could have used him. They weren’t exactly at full strength with Blake Griffin missing a 39th consecutive game because of quadriceps and hand injuries and Jeff Green sitting out because of concussion-like symptoms after suffering a gash in his forehead Saturday that required eight stitches.
Doc Rivers didn’t appear mad at his team as he had been the previous night, lamenting his players’ having fallen too far behind but saying he “thought we played with the right intentions.”
Then there was the take of Jordan, who gave clipped responses to a series of questions.
How would he describe the last two games?
“We lost,” he said quickly.
Was there a common theme?
“No,” he said. “We just lost. I can’t really describe it.”
Are the Clippers in a good mental spot collectively as a team? For once, Jordan paused.
“I guess,” he said.
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