Saturday, January 21, 2012
Clippers react differently to this loss
By Arash Markazi ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin's head was still buried in his hands as his feet were buried in a bucket of ice as the Los Angeles Clippers' locker room door opened up and a throng of cameras and reporters marched toward him.
He looked up at the oncoming traffic, sighed and shook his head as he waved off the media and walked to the shower without saying a word.
Griffin has experienced his fair share of loses with the Clippers, but the 101-98 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night at the hands of a last-second, game-winning 3-pointer from Kevin Love was going to take a little bit longer from which to recover.
Kevin Love, right, was held in check for the most part by the Clippers until his winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Clippers, who led by as many as 15 points, weren't supposed to give games away like this anymore.
Those days were supposed to be over. Griffin's constant mantra this season has been that this season would be different.
"We didn't execute down the stretch and they did," Griffin said, his head still down as he came back to address the media. "We have to do a better job of maintaining that lead when we're up. It's happened several times in a row."
The Clippers had previously escaped with wins against the New Jersey Nets and Dallas Mavericks after squandering double-digit leads but couldn't pull it off Friday. It was the fourth straight game the team had played without Chris Paul and the offense's inability to maintain any level of consistency showed. The problems that had been apparent to Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro even when the team was winning was finally too much to overcome.
"We turned it over too much," Del Negro said. "We didn't execute when we needed to or make any shots. We didn't make any stops we needed to. We weren't locked in defensively at the end of the game. We missed some free throws. It's a little frustrating right now."
Across the hallway, the Timberwolves, which are in many ways last season's Clippers with the hype surrounding their belated rookie star and their promising young core, celebrated their third straight win and their most dramatic of the season.
It had been a forgettable game for rookie sensation Ricky Rubio, who was 0-for-10 from the field before hitting a tying 3-pointer with 29.9 seconds left. Then 29 seconds later, with 0.9 seconds left on the clock, Love made the winner from 28 feet out.
The inbounds pass from Luke Ridnour to a wide-open Love was almost as perfect as the shot, which was so clean that Love raised his hands and Ridnour began walking off the court as soon as it was released.
"How I was that wide open, I don't really know, but I got a good look at it and I hit," Love said. "I tried to throw up my hands as soon as I shot it because it felt so great coming off my hands that I knew it was in."
As Rubio addressed a throng of Spanish media after the game, Timberwolves president David Kahn smiled from the back of the locker room as he looked at his young star.
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"Most players would not have been willing to take that shot with the kind of tough night he had offensively," Kahn said. "The way he kept attacking in the fourth quarter and to have the you-know-what to be able to shoot it like that with absolutely no hesitation shows the kind of gamer he is. He has those intangibles that are really quite special. I was happy for Kevin too. I don't recall since I've been here him winning a game-winning shot. Look, we haven't won many game-winning shots."
Kahn's view of both shots was better than the view Mo Williams had from the Clippers' locker room after being ejected from the game when he picked up his second technical with 6:21 left for arguing a questionable foul on Rubio in the paint.
It was a difficult way to watch his team lose after missing three straight games because of a right foot injury and returning to spark the Clippers to a win over the Mavericks on Wednesday with a team-high 26 points, and then being the leading scorer Friday night despite the ejection with 25 points.
"It was a tough call to make; I think deep down inside he probably regretted it," Williams said. "If he watches it, he'll probably regret it even more. But at the end of the day it's like a cop writing a ticket. After you write it, you can't take it back. It hurts because I felt like I could have made a difference in the game."
There are a myriad differences between the Clippers of the past and this season's team. Only a simple glance at their roster and the standings will suffice, but perhaps one of the most glaring differences is the way they react to a tough loss. In past years, it was accepted. Not so much because the players liked losing, but it happened so often they almost became numb to it.
The feeling in the Clippers' locker room after Friday's loss was as if they had been eliminated from the playoffs. Despite getting blown out by the Utah Jazz 108-79 on Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Friday's loss was worse because it was the first time this season the Clippers felt as if they had lost a game they should have won to a team that shouldn't have even been in position to beat them.
"This is a tough loss, but we'll regroup and we'll bounce back," Williams said. "This is a different team."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.