It should have been the Clippers’ Sunday. The team’s potentially perfect, under-the-radar afternoon of work and significant payoff. Scheduled for its familiar Sunday matinee against a lowly opponent from Sacramento that was incentivized to lose, the Clippers could have downed the lottery-bound Kings on their way toward a virtually even mark with the fightin’ Utah Jazz, and easy-elbowed their way into further room in the Western playoff bracket ahead of the exhausted Oklahoma City Thunder.
Instead, the Clippers let it slip away. To the point where the team’s ineptitude is making all the noise, following Los Angeles’ 98-97 defeat, as opposed to plaudits for second-year Kings big man Willie Cauley-Stein.
It was WCS that hit a game-winner for Sacto off, appropriately, a broken play:
Rest of America watching the Elite Eight?
The Kings – who entered Sunday with a chance to tie Orlando and New York for the fourth-worst record in the NBA, and thus the fourth-best lottery odds in the NBA – ready to roll over?
Seemingly insurmountable lead?
Nothing was too easy for the Clippers on Sunday: Los Angeles led by 18 points with five minutes to go, yet still somehow let a Sacto squad led by rookie Buddy Hield win a game it didn’t want. Sacramento found itself down 94-76 against a healthy team looking to coalesce, and yet still managed to down its opponent.
Its playoff-bound opponent, no less. One that could have done real damage to both Utah and Oklahoma City (which lost to the Rockets on Sunday) just by doing as expected.
If you’d flipped channels away from the Staples Center, it was understandable:
Wait, the Clippers lost that? They were up 18 with 5 minutes to go! pic.twitter.com/qr9QBUKuaO
— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) March 26, 2017
Teams Leading by 18+ Points in Final 5 Minutes – This Season
Losses 1 (Clippers)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 26, 2017
Entering Sunday, teams were 6,746-1 over the last 20 seasons when leading by at least 18 points in the final 5 minutes. https://t.co/WDaMngBeGb
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 26, 2017
— Vincent Johnson (@vincentkjohnson) March 26, 2017
Hield managed 11 points over the last five minutes of the contest for Sacramento, finishing with 15 points and seven rebounds. He’s now averaging 14.7 points as a King, making nearly half his shots from the floor after averaging just 8.6 points on 39 percent shooting with New Orleans. Hield, who, starred at Oklahoma during the NCAA tournament in 2016, was sent to the Kings in the DeMarcus Cousins deal.
A post shared by Ball Don't Lie (@yahooballdontlie) on Mar 27, 2017 at 1:29pm PDT
The Los Angeles Clippers, even after today, do not care about Sacramento King rookie Buddy Hield. Chris Paul?
CP3: "It's a bad loss, probably the worst one in the regular season in my career. It's tough. That was a bad one. That was a bad loss."
— Jason Jones (@mr_jasonjones) March 26, 2017
Postgame Sound ???? | CP3 addresses the media after today's game. pic.twitter.com/y4l6KXRV6Y
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) March 26, 2017
The Clippers did not hit a field goal over those final five minutes. The team’s go-to lineup during its stretch turn – CP3, Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford all sharing court time with bigs Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, no swingmen to be found – stood in as almost a mockery of president Doc Rivers’ inability to surround his top-heavy stars with midrange talent.
Paul finished with 17 and nine assists in the loss, and Los Angeles failed to move ahead of the Utah Jazz and into sole possession of fourth place in the West with only seven games to play.
Games the Clippers are looking less and less interested in working through, as the team limps its way toward what could be the sixth consecutive lacking postseason in Paul’s career with the franchise:
the clippers play like when you want to break up but want the other person to do it
— ☕netw3rk (@netw3rk) March 26, 2017
It was a contest the Clippers not only looked to have in hand down the stretch in ways that went well beyond the significant 18-point deficit. Though Los Angeles hadn’t played the kindest game prior to the collapse – Rivers and Co.’s first-quarter work was hardly spectacular – the Clippers did give every indication they had win No. 45 well in hand.
Instead, as the clock took what felt like ages to extinguish, yet another late-game misstep cost the Clippers a sure foothold on the No. 4 seed. Clips Nation’s Lucas Hann was hardly impressed with Rivers’ decision-making throughout:
The Clippers beat themselves. The execution, decision making, and effort were not consistently there, even in the most crucial closing moments of the game. And Doc Rivers’ failed substitution patterns exacerbated the problem. Despite a mountain of evidence that it does not work, Rivers continues to play Paul Pierce and Jamal Crawford together, handing opponents a guaranteed run in the second and fourth quarters of each game. The second unit was successful in yesterday’s game against the Jazz, but not because of the unit—because Jamal Crawford got hot.
It would be nice for Doc Rivers to build a rotation without 12-18 minutes of lineups that play matador defense and rely upon Jamal Crawford’s streaky offense to help them keep up. It would be nice for a coach, knowing that the Clippers have two days off after today, to not assume that a game is over because his subs hold a 14-point lead with 7 minutes remaining, and not insert third-string players in unusual lineups that facilitate a comeback.
The Clippers still hold the tie-breaker over Utah, as Los Angeles sits just percentage points behind the Jazz. The Clips are two games in the loss column back of Utah with two days of rest and, we’re guessing, practice, before Los Angeles’ home game with Washington on Wednesday.
Los Angeles figures to be in a battle for playoff seeding until the season’s end, which doesn’t make the last game of the regular season on April 12 all the more charming: The Clippers play Sacramento, in Los Angeles yet again.
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