Before leaving for Denver, Chris Paul was reminded that Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was on the last NBA team that went 16-0 in a calendar month. Del Negro’s 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs went undefeated in March and won 17 straight games before losing their next game.
“So you’re saying it’s not a good sign for us?” Paul said as he prepared to win No. 18. “We’ll blame it on that if things don’t go well in Denver.”
Things didn’t end up going well for the Clippers in Denver, as their 17-game winning streak was snapped following a 92-78 loss to the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers’ shortcomings in the game, however, had more to do with a lack of energy and turnovers than anything Del Negro did or didn’t do.
Paul was uncharacteristically careless with the ball, finishing with three of the Clippers' 15 turnovers, and the team fell behind by as many as 18 points late, with the game quickly getting away in the fourth quarter.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
It had to end
Maybe the Clippers were simply bracing themselves for the inevitable, but before the game many players were realistic about the odds of their streak continuing past this week, with back-to-back road games against Denver and the Golden State Warriors, then back-to-back home games against the Los Angeles Lakers and the Warriors. Sure, they wanted the streak to continue, but at some point they knew they had to come back to reality and be happy going 3-1 over this stretch. “We know we’re not going to win the next 50 games,” Jamal Crawford said. “At some point, we’re going to lose and we understand that. We just want to get better each game.” The question for the Clippers now is how they will respond to their first loss since November.
Blake Griffin had a solid December, which was one of the biggest reasons the Clippers were able to win 17 games in a row. But he has struggled in his past two games. He had seven points and seven rebounds against the Utah Jazz on Dec. 30, and heading into the fourth quarter against Denver he had just eight points and six rebounds on Tuesday. Griffin finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting and had nine rebounds, but he simply wasn’t able to produce when the Clippers needed him most. He wasn’t alone. All of the Clippers struggled to get anything going offensively, hitting only 38.5 percent from the field, 17.2 percent from the 3-point line, and a dreadful 44.8 percent from the free throw line.
A Tribe Called Bench
It wasn’t a terrible night for the Clippers' bench, which finished with 36 points. But considering the starters scored only 42 points, this was one of those games during which the Clippers needed their second team to exceed their league-leading season average of 42.2 points per game. Crawford, who is averaging 16.5 points this season, had nine points on 2-of-11 shooting and missed all five of his 3-point attempts. As good as the bench has played this season, it get very little offense from Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins, who combined for six points on Tuesday. The return of Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups -- who will push Willie Green to the bench -- should help.