The Los Angeles Clippers didn't play terribly in Tuesday's road game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Their two stars -- Blake Griffin and Chris Paul -- combined to score 70 points, their largest combined total of the 2011-2012 season. They shot the ball equally as well as Atlanta -- 50 percent even -- and turned it over fewer times.
But the Clippers still lost to the Hawks, 109-102, in the penultimate game of their lockout-shortened regular season. And that's why they so desperately need home-court advantage for their upcoming first-round matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Luckily, they can still attain it by beating the New York Knicks on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, or if Memphis loses at home to Orlando on Thursday, which is unlikely.
It's simple: The home team has the advantage in close games, and the entire Clippers-Grizzlies series looks like it'll be close. Therefore, the team with the extra road game in the first-round series could face a significant handicap. In other words, it's no coincidence that the Clippers have won both of their home games against the Grizzlies and lost their only road matchup.
At home, Griffin, Paul and Co. have won 73 percent of their games. On the road, they've now won exactly 50 -- with 16 wins and 16 losses. How fitting it is, then, that the regular-season finale will break that tie and go a long way toward deciding if the Clippers will be able to advance past the first round of the playoffs.
Of course, a win Tuesday would have done all of that, securing home court for the first round and putting pressure on the crosstown Los Angeles Lakers to beat Sacramento on Thursday to keep the No. 3 seed. But Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro told reporters following Tuesday's game that he was fine with everything coming down to the final day.
"You gotta win to get home court, and that's the way it is," he said.
There were positive signs from Tuesday's loss: It was arguably Griffin's best offensive performance of the season, and the Clippers again fought back from a 13-point deficit at the end of the third quarter to challenge Atlanta late in the game. If Joe Johnson didn't make an incredible 30-foot 3-pointer as the shot clock expired in the final minute, the outcome might have been different.
"The game itself had a playoff feel to it," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "With the game having the type of meaning it did for both ball clubs, we wanted to bring our best effort. I thought our guys did a good job with that.”
Said a displeased Del Negro, in contrast: "I didn't think we were very good tonight. I didn't think we were hungry."
Will they be hungry -- or hungrier, at least -- in New York on Wednesday night? Considering what'll be at stake, it's likely. A win Wednesday would aid the Clippers' cause quite a bit the next two weeks.
"We'd obviously love to have home-court advantage," Griffin told reporters after Tuesday's game. "But no matter what cards are dealt, we're still gonna play (Memphis) and we'll still be ready."