Five Takeaways from the Clippers' 98-97 Loss to the Sacramento Kings
LOS ANGELES – Following an impressive victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, the L.A. Clippers were in prime position to move a game closer towards securing that fourth seed in the West against a struggling Sacramento Kings team. Up 18 points in the fourth quarter, the Clippers had arguably their biggest collapse of the season, falling 98-97.
“We lost, plain and simple,” said Chris Paul. “We sort of messed with the game, and they got it going. It’s a bad loss.”
What looked like a blowout victory for the Clippers with about five minutes remaining turned into a monumental collapse that went down to the final buzzer. Up 94-76, L.A. emptied their bench headed towards another victory. That is, until the Kings finished the final five minutes on a 22-3 run, including a pair of Buddy Hield three-pointers in a span of about five seconds as well as a game-winning putback layup by Willie Cauley-Stein.
“I thought we had a lot of opportunities to take the game away and I just never thought we did,” said head coach Doc Rivers. “I was frustrated, literally, from the beginning of the fourth on. I kept looking at the game and it was 14 [point lead] instead of 20, which it could’ve been many times.”
Coming into today’s the game, the Clippers were the fifth best three-point shooting team, but had the task of playing without their best three-point shooter in guard J.J. Redick. The 11-year veteran out of Duke is the league’s eighth best three-point shooter at 41.8% and makes 2.5 of them per game, but his team was able to reel off 10 three-pointers on 29 attempts (34.5%). By the end of the night, they wished they’d made just one more to equal their season average of 11 and likely give them the victory.
It was a back-and-forth first half that saw neither team create much separation, but that changed in the second half when L.A. raced out of halftime with a 13-5 run to take their first double-digit lead of the game at 57-47. When the Kings answered to close the gap to six points, L.A. responded with a 12-1 run to take a 76-59 lead capped off by Jamal Crawford’s first bucket of the game, a jumper from beyond the arc. The second unit took over, and it was all downhill from there.
L.A. had chances to put some breathing room on their lead down the stretch, and Chris Paul even had an open look at a 21-footer to win the game at the buzzer. Just like most of the team’s shots in the fourth quarter, however, it bounced off the iron.
DeAndre Jordan led the way in scoring with 20 points and rebounding with 11 boards. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul each finished with 17 points. Jamal Crawford, who scored 28 points last night, finished with just nine points on 2-12 shooting.
Quote of the Night:
After the loss, here’s what Doc Rivers relayed to his team.
“We deserved it,” said Rivers on the loss. “You win or lose the game, you tell them the truth. That game was won if we keep playing the way we had been playing. I thought we stopped doing that. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don’t, and we didn’t get away with it tonight. It happens, and we deserve it.
Here are five quick takeaways from the Clippers’ win.
1) No rest for the weary – On the second night of a back-to-back, Doc Rivers thought he could buy his starters some good time to rest on the bench up 18 in the fourth quarter. Instead, he had to re-insert Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Austin Rivers to close out the game while the Kings held all the momentum.
While it would’ve been great to have the starters take the rest of the night off, it would’ve been even better to come away with a victory.
“It was hard [not to re-insert them],” said coach Rivers. “That’s what you don’t want. Mentally, I think that’s really hard. It’s easy to ask guys to stay ready, but they’re looking at the lead thinking they’re not going back in. I will take far more blame than them on that.”
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul differed from Rivers in their responses, saying it’s their jobs to be ready.
“We’re supposed to be able to play any time, said Griffin. “We can’t really make that excuse just because we’re sitting out. We’ve got to be able to come in and be better. It shouldn’t have gotten to that.”
“We’re a team,” added Paul. “When we struggle, they come in and pick us up. When they were struggling, it was our job to come in and pick them up, and we didn’t do it.”
2) Star Power Doesn’t Always Result In Wins – The Kings trotted out five guys still on rookie contracts while the Clippers had no player with less than five years of experience playing in their rotation. The youngest Clipper, Austin Rivers, started in place of Redick and played 42 minutes on the night.
By the end of the night, however, it was rookie Buddy Hield who shined bright with 11 of his 16 points in the final four minutes of the fourth period to guide his team to victory.
3) Aggressiveness of Chris Paul without J.J. Redick – After a season-high 33 points on 52.4% shooting against the Jazz 13 days ago, Chris Paul struggled to get much going on Saturday, finishing with 14 points on 5-18 shooting, including 0-8 from beyond the arc. Without his backcourt mate in J.J. Redick, Paul came out aggressive in the first quarter, scoring six points on a pair of three-pointers with five assists. In total, Paul finished with 17 points on 3-of-5 from downtown as well as 6-of-6 from the free throw line to go along with nine assists and four rebounds.
4) Odd Scheduling with Back-to-Back Afternoon Games – The Clippers are no strangers to afternoon games in their weekend schedule, as they’ve played five of them this season. However, a back-to-back set consisting of afternoon games is one of the weirder parts of this season’s schedule.
“It’s just different when you play back-to-back afternoon games,” said Rivers. “We talk about scheduling, this is one of the games that i saw that i was like, “Two 12:30PM games? I don’t want that,’ but we couldn’t get it changed. You have to go into the game knowing that you have to watch your guys, in any back-to-back, but this is just a strange one.”
5) Bench Differential On A Back-To-Back – While the Clippers bench outscored the starters against the Jazz 56-52 led by Jamal Crawford’s 28, but they points were hard to come by for the second-unit against the Kings. L.A.’s bench scored 28 points, and struggled to maintain the fourth quarter lead, eventually giving it up completely, which forced coach Rivers to re-insert his starters to no avail.
“I was desperately trying to see if our bench could take us home, because I really did not want to put our guys back in. At the end of the day, it may have cost us the game with that decision.
The Clippers will now enjoy a pair of days off for the first time in a month, and they’ll also hold a practice on Tuesday, also their first in over a month.
“It’ll be great,” said forward Blake Griffin. “We’ll get a day for everyone to rest, get the treatment they need since we’re a little banged up. And then it’s going to be nice to just have a practice to be able to get up and down, work on some stuff, and hopefully that gets us into a better groove.
Following their Tuesday practice, the Clippers (44-31) will host the Washington Wizards (45-28) on Wednesday night.