It’s pretty clear to most observers that the Los Angeles Clippers have been on a roller-coaster ride all season. Sometimes they’re up; sometimes they’re down. A big part of that inconsistency for the Clippers is not having Blake Griffin in the lineup. Griffin’s presence has been notable, despite the team rolling to a very good record without him on the floor.
The Clippers’ 87-81 loss at home to the Denver Nuggets two weeks ago, is a good example of this. The team’s latest defeat, a 107-87 defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center, is another bad patch to highlight. There are some people who may point to these defeats to being more of an abbreviation than something that is routine.
That’s a good point to make. As long as the Clippers are being led and coached by Doc Rivers, they will always battle and grind their way to respectability. That’s just the makeup of a Rivers’ coached team: tough, in-your-face determined and physical.
Griffin represents those attributes. But more important than that, Griffin is probably in the Top 5 best players in the NBA discussion. With Griffin, the Clippers always have a chance to contend for an NBA title, or least be in the conversation. Without him, the Clippers are very good, but they won’t sniff the second round of the postseason.
That’s because you just can’t pluck a perennial 6-foot-10 NBA All-Star power forward off of a tree. They’re kind of a rare breed. For all the talk and chatter that the basketball flows better (from media pundits, and even some players) without Griffin, the suggestion here is that watch your tongue. That is just the “now” moment talking.
With Griffin, the Clippers (besides the San Antonio Spurs) have a strong chance of any team in the Western Conference of upending Golden State from repeating as NBA champions.
Without him, there is not one force on the team that can carry the Clippers, besides guard Chris Paul, game in and game out. This is where consistency comes into play for the Clippers. With Griffin, the Clippers know they’re going to get 23 plus points and just eight rebounds a game. Without Griffin, the Clippers are depending on other players stepping up to fill that void.
The Los Angeles Clippers signed Wesley Johnson to a 3-year, $18 million contract in July 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
That seems to be working for the most part. And that’s the beauty of a Doc Rivers-coached team. It is a team. But you win championships with star players inserted into the team concept. The Clippers have their Big Three in Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. With the addition of Jeff Green, the Clippers just may take that step to the next level.
Green, with his defensive prowess, gives the Clippers the versatility depth at the shooting guard and small forward positions they have been missing for a while. In the meantime, when Griffin comes back, the Clippers will need to do what they are trying to do now: be consistent across the board. That would include beating the teams you should beat.
Against the Hawks, the Clippers were outrebounded, 53-41, and shot 43 percent from the field. Paul and Jordan put up 17 points apiece, but the Clippers got little or nothing from their bench. That’s not going to get it done as the regular season progresses to its end in April and the postseasom comes into play. It may have been one of those night for the Clippers. But right now as they’re chasing the No. 3 seed, having too many of one of those nights might come back and bite them.
This is where inconsistency can hurt them.
The Clippers already know that story. They’ve read it too many times. They’re ready to move on to another chapter. They’re tired of reading about being second fiddle. This team is hungry for more. This is sort of desperation time for the Clippers with time winding down on this era. So losing Griffin for a great portion of the NBA season has been a big downer in so many ways.
But in some ways, it has also been a disguised blessing for Rivers as the team’s on-court chemistry has flowed pretty well with the play of rest of the roster taking off by leaps and bounds. Games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Atlanta Hawks recently, both at Staples Center, have exposed both the good and the bad.
The Hawks’ game represented the bad where the Clippers’ offensive flow wasn’t crisp outside of the first quarter when the team scored 37 points. The Clippers scored 18 points apiece in the second and fourth quarters, which spell out the inconsistency in play. Against the Thunder, the Clippers roared back from a deep deficit to record one of their best wins of the season.
For Clippers’ fans, they’re hoping for more of the latter as the playoffs approaches.