The Clippers got what they needed this offseason. They changed the culture around the team and added the game’s best point guard to pair with the league’s most exciting big man. With their new additions, they seemingly became a contender overnight.
But after playing the first two games of the season, it has become painfully obvious that the Clippers are still missing something. Although the roster has a few small holes (Brian Cook playing major minutes is never advised), what the Clippers really need now can’t be acquired -- which is rather unfortunate, because San Antonio certainly has an abundance of it.
What they need, more than anything else, is time. They need time to figure it out how to fulfill the lofty expectations placed upon them, and now they need time to let the wounds heal after the Spurs issued the Clippers a 115-90 drubbing in San Antonio.
Even though the Clippers haven’t won in San Antonio since 2002, this result wasn’t exactly expected. By all means, the young, able-bodied combination of Paul and Griffin should have burned up the much older Tony Parker-Tim Duncan combination, but the younger duo's pick-and-roll tango looked forced and stilted while the older couple floated effortlessly, knowing exactly where the other was at all times.
Despite the understandable lack of chemistry between their two stars, the Clippers remain a team with strengths. The only problem is, they’re currently unaware of what those strengths are.
Chris Paul is best when he’s attacking relentlessly and creating easy buckets at the rim for Griffin and Jordan, but instead, he’s playing nice and deferring to his wings (the Clippers perimeter players were 13-for-38 against the Spurs) for what usually amounts to a contested shot.
Griffin, meanwhile, should be cutting hard and screening harder, but instead, he’s waiting for his turn to face-up and do his own thing in isolation.
The veterans of the group, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, want to help but are capable of little else than shooting at this stage of their careers. Perhaps it’s telling that DeAndre Jordan (eight points, eight rebounds, three blocks), the only player without a role change, has probably been the best Clipper through the first two games.
Although their raw offensive abilities will usually overwhelm inferior opponents like it did against Golden State, the Clippers can’t coast on talent alone on the defensive end.
No player on the Clippers roster represents the hazards of that better than Griffin. Yes, he was brilliant offensively, riding his unusual blend of athleticism and ballhandling to a 28-point performance, but for as good as he was offensively, he was equally bad defensively. Undersized forward DeJuan Blair dropped 20 points with Griffin as his primary defender and the Spurs pick-and-roll game created open looks all night long (56.3 percent from the field). Is that solely on Griffin’s shoulders? No, but posting a plus/minus rating of minus-37 isn’t something a star on a contender typically does.
It’s still too early to judge whether or not the Clippers are a contender at this stage. It’s hard to remember now, but the Heat started off 9-8 last season and faced plenty of criticism before they figured it out and ripped off 21 wins in 22 games en route to the NBA Finals.
Of course, the Clippers' road to success is a little more uphill. With no training camp and two real games under their belt, the Clippers will continue to step on each other’s toes until they get the steps down.
After an unfamiliar few months, finally a recognizable theme from Clipperland has emerged: Patience.