In a season of campaign slogans, “It’s the defense, stupid” would work for the Clippers.
They have been unable to stop anyone over the last week, a troublesome trend that popped up again Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan lingered in the backcourt to discuss a defensive breakdown after Kyrie Irving drove for a layup in the game’s first minute, a sign of things to come for the Clippers during a 115-102 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
That improved defense that had sparked their recent 10-game winning streak was nowhere to be found Thursday. The Cavaliers shot 50.6% and every starter scored in double figures.
The Clippers have allowed at least 110 points in three consecutive games. The only surprise is that they won one of them.
“Our defense has been unacceptable,” Paul said.
Their offense wasn’t much better against the Cavaliers. Paul scored 30 points and J.J. Redick had 17, but the rest of the Clippers starters combined for only 15 points. Paul Pierce went scoreless, missing all five of his shots.
It was the first time since Blake Griffin was sidelined late last month with a quadriceps injury that the Clippers looked a bit lost without their All-Star power forward.
LeBron James and J.R. Smith each scored 22 points for the Eastern Conference-leading Cavaliers (30-11), who were the aggressors despite playing on the second night of a back-to-back after returning from Brooklyn.
The Clippers cut an 18-point deficit to six midway through the fourth quarter and had the ball, but Paul was called for traveling after a mixup with teammate Jamal Crawford near the sideline in which Paul fell into the laps of fans in the front row, with a scowl on his face. Kevin Love then made two three-pointers as part of an 11-1 run by the Cavaliers that ended the drama.
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers criticized himself for repeated miscommunications that led to open three-pointers, but Paul said the blame belonged to the players.
“We’re not being solid, we’re not being disciplined, we’re not doing our principles,” Paul said. “It’s nothing on the coaches, it’s just us.”
Cleveland got a bit bold in the third quarter, intentionally fouling Jordan while holding a 10-point lead. It worked. Jordan made only three of eight free throws in that situation and the Cavaliers increased their lead to 14 because the Clippers couldn’t get stops.
“That’s the proper way to do it,” Rivers said of intentionally fouling while ahead, “because it prevents you from making a run, especially a team like us that can score.”
Clippers point guard Chris Paul tries to steal the ball from Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the second half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Austin Rivers tries to cut off a drive by Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving during the second half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Chris Paul pressures Cavaliers forward LeBron James, who looks to pass during the second half of their game Thursday night in Cleveland.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Clippers center Cole Aldrich (45) and Cavaliers forward Kevin Love chase after a loose ball during the second half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving tries to protect the ball against the reach of Clippers point guard Chris Paul during the second half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is fouled by Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith during the second half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Clippers forward Paul Pierce fouls Cavaliers forward LeBron James as he tries to score in the first half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Cavaliers center Timofey Mozgov, right, passes the ball while under pressure from Clippers center DeAndre Jordan in the first half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) passes over Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) in the first half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, right, drives to the basket against Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, center, and forward Paul Pierce during the first half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Clippers forward Wesley Johnson tries to cut off a drive by Cavaliers forward Kevin Love during the first half.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
It was not the way the Clippers (27-15) wanted to enter the second half of their schedule or start a five-game trip that includes four more stops against teams with records of .500 or better. They hope to have Griffin back before the end of the trip.
In the meantime, they will continue to work on fixing their defense.
“We’re not getting the same effort, not getting the same communication that we’ve had for two months now,” Redick said. “We’ve proven we can do it, we just have to do it.”
The Clippers’ biggest highlight Thursday might have come from their official Twitter account, which mocked the Cleveland Browns’ offense by tweeting footage of an outlet pass from Paul to Redick for a layup with the accompanying caption: “Not something you see often in Cleveland, a TD pass!”
Ultimately, the outcome felt more like a fumble for the Clippers.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter: @latbbolch