After three losses in a row, five in the last six games and a first half in which they were outscored by 29 points, the frustration finally boiled over for the Clippers on Sunday.
Following a 91-80 loss to the Toronto Raptors that dropped the Clippers below .500 for just the second time in Doc Rivers’ three seasons as coach, players could be heard screaming at one another in the locker room.
Just who yelled at whom and about what, no one would say.
“That’s for us in our locker room,” point guard Chris Paul said.
What’s obvious, though, is that when the shouting finished, the Clippers were right back where they had been when it started: in a deep funk for which they can’t find a solution.
It wasn’t hard to identify the Clippers’ problem Sunday: It was a first half in which they fell behind by 29 points, their biggest deficit of the season. Griffin, the team’s leading scorer, had more fouls and turnovers (three of each) than he did points (zero) in the opening 24 minutes before the Clippers, who looked disorganized and bewildered, left the floor to a chorus of boos trailing, 63-34.
It was the team’s lowest-scoring half of the season, something for which Paul and Rivers shared blame.
“It starts with me,” said Paul, who saw his team outscored by 21 points during his 18 minutes on the court.
“This is on me,” countered Rivers. “Players, we have to put them in a better spot to perform better. And that’s my job.”
He did that job much better in the second half, with the Clippers limiting Toronto to just eight points in the third period before drawing within six points of the lead early in the final quarter.
And it was a comeback Paul keyed, leading a swarming defense that held Toronto to just 18.2% shooting from the floor. But the climb back was far too steep and the team faded down the stretch as three Raptors — DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola and DeMar DeRozan — finished with 20 or more points.
Raptors forward James Johnson is tied up by Clippers center DeAndre Jordan for a jump ball during the second half.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers questions a call in the second half of the game against the Raptors.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers guard J.J. Redick slips past Raptors forwards Terrence Ross, left, and Luis Scola for a layup in the first half.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers point guard Chris Paul tries to cut off a drive by Raptors guard Corey Joseph during the first half.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers forward Paul Pierce and Raptors forward Luis Scola battle for a loose ball in the first half Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry tumbles to the court as he reaches for a loose ball between Clippers forwards Blake Griffin (32) and Wesley Johnson in the second half Sunday.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Raptors guard Cory Joseph and Clippers forward Josh Smith battle for a rebound in the second half.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) pulls up for a shot over Clippers forward Blake Griffin and guard Austin Rivers in the second half.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan has his reverse layup challenged by Clippers center DeAndre Jordan in the first half.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Clippers forward Paul Pierce tries to score inside against Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll in the first half.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Clippers forward Lance Stephenson is hit in the face by Raptors forward Terrence Ross while trying to make a pass in the first half Sunday at Staples Center.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan dunks against the Raptors in the first half Sunday.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
The Clippers then took what little fight they had left back to their locker room.
Rivers questioned the value of the loud and long postgame meeting, saying he would have preferred to see his players spend that energy on the court.
“Those things are such a waste, for the most part,” he said. “It’s so easy to do it after the game. I’d rather have the explosions during the game. After the game is too late.”
Because after the game the Clippers were left to pick up the pieces of a dismal stretch during which they have lost seven of nine games after starting the season with four straight wins.
Only one of the last five losses has been by fewer than 10 points and with a season-worst three losses in a row, the Clippers have a losing record for the first time since Rivers’ initial game as coach in 2013.
But if that qualifies as a black cloud, Paul thinks he’s found a silver lining.
“The good thing about it is, this isn’t game 80, 81 or 82,” he said. “We have time. And nobody’s going to feel sorry for us.”
“Big picture, we’ll be OK,” he said. “I’m not happy with where we’re at right now. I don’t think anybody is.
“But we have the right pieces. And we have guys that can really play.”