LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Clippers don’t necessarily have any “must win” games on their schedule.
Unlike their hallway neighbors at Staples Center, they’re not scoreboard watching or figuring out how many games they have to win to make the playoffs. The Clippers are in the playoffs and will likely clinch their division before any other team.
The question for the Clippers isn’t if they are a playoff team, but if they are a championship contending team. After recent losses to the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and now the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, it’s hard to say they are. Sunday’s 108-104 loss to the Thunder provided a closer finish than anyone would have expected after the Clippers fell behind by 19 points in the second half, but the late comeback doesn’t change the fact that the Clippers still have yet to beat the Thunder this season.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Paul and Billups
The one constant in the Clippers’ three losses against the top three teams in the league has been the play of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups. During Sunday's first half, Paul and Billups combined for five points on 1-of-10 shooting and also had five turnovers. As a team, the Clippers had 16 turnovers, which led to 17 points by the Thunder in the first half. This was a game where the Clippers needed Paul and Billups to set the tone early, but instead L.A. fell behind by 16 points in the first half and 19 early in the second half largely because of the way Paul and Billups played. Of course, Paul stepped up in the second half and led the team's comeback, as he scored 14 points in the third quarter and finished with 26 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Billups, however, was a non-factor; he only played seven minutes in the second half and finished with just one point while missisng his three shots from the field, all from beyond the arc.
The Clippers always talk about the importance of taking care of the ball and minimizing turnovers in big games. They’ve done a fairly good job of that this season, but they were downright careless with the ball on Sunday, committing 21 turnovers that resulted in 24 points by the Thunder. In the first half alone, L.A. had 16 turnovers, which resulted in 17 points by Oklahoma City, putting the Clippers in an early 16-point hole. Obviously the Clippers shored up their turnover problem in the second half, but by that point they were already down by 19 points and playing catch-up.
It was a rough day for Blake Griffin, who picked up two fouls within the first four minutes and was replaced by Lamar Odom, who picked up three fouls in the next five minutes. Griffin fouled out of the game late when he picked up back-to-back fouls on offense and defense, and watched the final minute from the bench as the Thunder pulled away. Griffin had 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists and was instrumental in the Clippers’ seven-point possession late in the fourth quarter that actually gave L.A. a 100-99 lead with 1:30 left. Griffin was hit in the groin by Serge Ibaka on Matt Barnes' 3-pointer, and knocked down one of two free throws after Ibaka was called for the flagrant foul. Jamal Crawford followed with a 3, but the Thunder went on a 5-0 run after that play to put the game away.