Friday night, TMZ reported that an audio recording captured Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, telling his girlfriend not to publicly associate with black people and not to bring them to any of his games. The story caught fire and it clearly shocked the NBA world. But how would something like that affect the Clipper players who had to play Sunday afternoon in a crucial Game 4 contest against the Golden State Warriors?
If you look at the outcome of the game, you may infer that the Clippers lost because they were distracted. A deeper look into the numbers shows that the Clippers played a mediocre game, and really got the mediocre result they deserved.
Now, can Los Angeles bounce back and get a win tonight in Game 5?
The Clippers' Offense
Oddly, there are some very similar numbers between the Clippers' Game 3 win and their Game 4 loss. Offensively, the stat lines aren't very different. In Games 3 and 4, the Clippers scored 98 and 97 points respectively. The Clippers had an effective field goal percentage of 51.2% in the third contest in the series, and 49.4% in the fourth - a mere 1.8% difference. When it comes to three-point shooting, the Clippers actually improved their percentage from 28.6% to 32%. Consequently, the team's offensive efficiency rating in Game 4 (102.3) was only point less than that of Game 3 (103.3).
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both saw a decline in numbers in Game 4, but neither went out and laid an egg. Paul actually scored one more point last game than he did in Game 3, but only tallied six assists compared to his 10 in the previous contest. Griffin didn't match his 32-point output he had in Game 3, but he still managed to score 21 points while shooting 8 for 14 from the field.
The key loss in production came from the Clipper center, DeAndre Jordan. He put up a monster game in Game 3 with 14 points, 22 rebounds and 5 blocks. But in Game 4, DJ failed to score a single point on one field goal attempt with only six rebounds. Jordan's high-energy play was clearly missing from the Clippers' attack, and it really hurt the team effort.
Turnovers were the key offensive stat to look at from Game 3 to Game 4. The Clips had 13 in the third game of the series, two below their season average. In Game 4, however, it was a different story. The Clippers turned the ball over 19 times, with 4 of those coming from their floor general, Chris Paul. The Clippers didn't take good care of the basketball, and the Warriors defense wreaked havoc to get the victory.
The Need for Better Defense
While the Clippers offense was just okay in Game 4, defensive focus was nowhere to be found. In Game 3, the Clippers held the Warriors to 96 points and an effective field goal percentage of 44.9% while posting a defensive efficiency rating of 101.2. In Game 4, the Clippers gave up 118 points on an effective field goal percentage of 65.5% while earning a 124.5 defensive efficiency rating. These numbers speak for themselves.
Though the same Clipper defensive focus, usually fueled by DeAndre Jordan, was clearly lacking in Game 4, was it really a product of the front office distraction? No one may ever truly know, but they played a horrible game defensively, surrendering open jumpers to the Warrior shooters. The "Splash Brothers" feasted on a weak Clippers team with poor defensive rotation. The Warriors shot 55.4% from the field while shooting 15 for 32 (46.9%) from three! Steph Curry was up to his old tricks shooting 10 for 20 from the field and 7 for 14 from the three-point arc, on his way to 33 points. While Curry is no stranger to hot shooting nights, Andre Iguodala had a great offensive night, for his standards, as he went 6 for 8 from the floor, 2 for 2 from three and 8 for 10 from the free throw stripe, accounting for 22 points.
Can They Win Game 5?
We may want to blame it on the distraction, but let's be honest, they played some poor basketball. The Warriors seized the opportunity to hit open jumpers against the poor Clipper defense, and they were clicking on all cylinders offensively. But after Commissioner Adam Silver handed down his justice for Mr. Sterling this afternoon, I fully expect the Clippers to bounce back with great focus and energy in Game 5.
The last time they were out in front of their home fans, the Clips put up 138 points on 56.6% shooting. More importantly tonight though, they will look to imitate their last defensive performance at the Staples Center, where they earned an outstanding defensive rating of 99.3 while allowing Golden State 98 points. They will look to limit Golden State's open looks from three as they did in Game 2, allowing only 3 three-point makes. If the Clipper defense gets back on track, I think they will emerge from tonight's matchup with a 3-2 series lead.