Clippers: Too immature to win
To be contenders, they need to take responsibility. Can Paul instill it?
The throng of media waiting for him in the nearby room slowly left, one by one, as a Staples Center employee began taking down the Clippers signage set up for pre- and postgame press conferences.
Griffin wasn't in the Clippers locker room. A couple of exasperated team employees said they had seen him moments earlier before he somehow vanished into thin air.
This was the second consecutive home game after which Griffin left the arena without addressing the media, instead letting Chris Paul answer the hard questions about a team that had lost three straight and four of its last five.
If the Clippers had won, Griffin would have been sitting next to Paul, jokingly opening a can of Red Bull strategically placed on the table after every game for the team's sponsor. He would crack some jokes, make some faces at Paul's son and show off the charm and personality that has made him one of the best pitchmen in sports.
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The Clippers already coddle their superstar players when it comes to the press. Only one of their big two players is available after practices or at shootarounds, usually for only five minutes, and sometimes neither is available. This might be a big deal if it were a premier team but, on the Clippers, Griffin can go a week without talking after practice and perhaps that is extending to games now.
It speaks to the larger issue of the Clippers' lack of maturity.
No team in the NBA has more fun when things are going right than the Clippers and few teams look as distraught when things are going wrong.
There doesn't seem to be any middle ground in Lob City, just highs and lows, and the Clippers have picked a bad time of the season to have one of their lowest points.
"We got some maturing to do," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said after the game. "There are some young players on our roster that have to capitalize on the moment. They have to understand what's at stake. They have to understand what the intensity level needs to be."
Del Negro harped on intensity as he ripped into the team after its embarrassing 98-81 loss to a Houston Rockets team playing without James Harden on Saturday. He wanted to see how his team would respond; his players showed him Monday by falling behind 10-0 early and trailing by 24 points in the second half.
With just seven games left in the season, it was an effort that left Del Negro puzzled after the game, despite a late comeback that brought the Clippers to within one point at the end.
"It's up to them," Del Negro said. "All I can do is take them in and out of the game."
The home locker room was a ghost town immediately after the game, as some players left before Del Negro was done addressing the media. DeAndre Jordan, who was 0-for-2 from the field with no points and five rebounds in 16 minutes, took to the stance of repeating the questions asked to him before responding with a short answer:
"We've lost the last couple of games."
"[Del Negro] said it was intensity? Then that's what it is, then."
"I think we do have an intense team."
The irony of Jordan's terse responses and Griffin's no-show postgame is that they are two of the most personable, charismatic players in the league. They are the kind of players you want representing your team after wins and losses. Like a solid union, you'd love for them to be the voice of the team, for better or for worse.
But before that can happen, before these Clippers can truly be a championship contending team, they have to mature. They have to understand the responsibility that comes with being an elite player on a contender.
It's a responsibility that Paul understood as he sat in front of the media after the game and said, "I think it starts with me. I think I have to be better defensively and offensively because as the point guard everything starts with me."
Everything starts with Paul. But before the Clippers can be considered a serious contender, Paul must somehow find a way to get his teammates to follow his lead and mature into more serious players.