Broken record much? 19-35 from the free throw line? Down 76-55 in the third quarter to the Golden State Warriors? Blake Griffin 7-15 from the FT line. Sound repetitive? Missed free throws, lackadaisical on both ends of the floor for two and a half quarters and the Clippers are once again on the short end of a game decided by 5 or less points and now trail the Lakers in the Pacific division for the first time since beginning the season 1-2.
The only reason LA had a chance at narrowing the gap with the Warriors was because of the inspired and terrific defensive effort from Eric Bledsoe (4 steals) as well as the energy, hustle and rebounding of Reggie Evans (11 points, 12 rebounds, 7 offensive). But as a head coach of a very talented team in the NBA, you must know when to bring back your superstar point guard. You know, the one who has proved time and time again to be clutch in these situations? When you leave the energy group in too long it backfires, as evidenced by tonight’s coaching miscues by Vinny Del Negro. Bledsoe was spent. He was panting, breathing so heavily from the incredible effort he showed and needed to take a seat. Instead, Vinny leaves him in with the score tied at 83 and they soon find themselves looking up at a 89-84 deficit with under a minute to play.
97-93. The Clippers are 1-2 against the Warriors. A team trailing them in the Western conference by 5 1/2 games. A team that should not have a chance to win more than one out of four has now taken 2 out of three. Noticing a trend? The Clippers are also 0-3 against Minnesota. They have not won back-to-back games within their last 11 games. They are rapidly declining because they are easy to defend. Lame screens on their only offensive set, the pick-and-roll, doesn’t even allow Chris Paul to work because the screener never truly puts a body on the defender he is attempting to pick.
If the Clippers do not shore up on their offensive execution, free throw percentage (which is at 68%, good enough for 26th in the NBA) and start to run a consistent offensive set, they will dip into the low seeds of the West and there will only be one person to blame: Vinny Del Negro. If you do not have the wherewithal to coach talent, then speak up, because you are doing an awful job thus far of it. If the FIRE VINNY chants do not begin soon, this team may lose control. If Blake Griffin can’t start hitting free throws, this team will crumble. If Deandre Jordan can’t be as enthusiastic as Reggie Evans is when he takes his minutes, the Clippers will in turn have no one to protect the rim on the defensive end. If Caron Butler does not find his way out of this black hole of a shooting slump, the Clippers will soon be starting Bobby SImmons at the three spot.
That’s a hell of a lot of IF’s for a team who had thought they turned another cheek a few weeks back. And IF they do not find the necessary change, there will be more ANDS and BUTS and the entire team will unravel.