The Los Angeles Clippers can breathe a sigh of relief after a 105-103 overtime victory in Houston. On a night where Blake Griffin felt under the weather packaged with a poorly thought out and executed offensive game plan, they survived on talent alone. Coach Vinny Del Negro has to be held accountable for the extended poor execution. Too many times the Clippers depend on Chris Paul and/or Blake Griffin to bail the team out of a lackadaisical possession deep into the shot clock. Paul proves time and time again that he truly is the most impressive point guard in the league with performances like tonight. 28 points and 10 assists doesn’t even begin to tell the story as he picks apart the defense like a Hall of Fame quarterback. His methodical approach is unrivaled in the league as he does not possess the athleticism of Derek Rose or Russell Westbrook yet still manages to patiently defy the odds. The culture surrounding the Clippers has changed because of his mere presence – losing is no longer accepted or tolerated.
Without the inspired and impressive bench play from both Mo Williams (14 points) and Kenyon Martin (10 points, 7 rebounds), the Clippers almost assuredly would be trailing the Lakers in the Pacific division for the first time since starting the season 1-2. They currently sit at 22-13, good enough for third in the deep Western Conference, but a loss in Phoenix Friday night and an overall 7-6 record since Chauncey Billups went down with a torn achilles does not bode well for the immediate future. Especially with their Staples Center co-tenants breathing heavily down their neck. Rest assured, the Clippers will be looking to exact revenge in Minnesota tomorrow night after dropping two to the Timberwolves on their home floor this season.
Who is to blame for the Clippers inconsistent play as of late? Coach Del Negro. Every great coach devises an offensive plan prior to the game and makes the necessary adjustments when the unsuspected occurs. The continued lack of execution with the talent on the roster has to fall on the shoulders of the coach. Having Paul dribble at the top of the key until the shot clock hits seven while the other four simply watch cannot continue if the Clippers want to compete for a championship this season. The pick-and-roll only fools the opponent every so often. If he cannot get a firm grip on his roster, it is likely that the Clippers will not only disappoint their fans, but themselves as well. Perhaps the team is still learning on the fly as the condensed schedule allows for limited practice time, which in turn leaves them struggling to form an identity on the court. Del Negro is also learning on the fly as this team was assembled only a week prior to the season. However, when the team does not perform up to standards, the blame rests solely on the coaching staff. It’s a large burden to carry, but Del Negro needs to prove his worth if he wants to keep his job because the talent and winning culture are abundantly present.