The Clippers have lost three in a row and frustration is mounting. Nothing brought the simmering tension to a head more than the reported tirade Josh Smith had with an unknown Clippers assistant after Sunday’s brutal 91-80 loss to the visiting Toronto Raptors.
After only scoring 34 points in a first half that saw them head into the break down by 29, the Clippers had cut it to 73-67 with 7:30 left in the fourth when Toronto scored eight of the next 10 points to push their lead back to double digits.
Toronto shot only 37.2 percent from the field on the night and only scored eight points in the third quarter. It didn’t matter. Such is the state of this year’s Clippers team, one that came into the season locked and loaded to compete for a title again after significantly upgrading their bench with the addition of Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and Wesley Johnson. But it was Josh Smith — averaging a career-low 14.8 minutes per game — who could be heard through the cement walls separating the Clippers from the media right before Doc Rivers took the podium following the loss. Here’s the Orange County Register‘s Dan Woike on Smoove’s audible disturbance.
Normally, the words stay in the locker room.
It’s not uncommon for the frustration associated with losing to manifest itself in four-letter words and evil-eyed glares.
It is uncommon, however, for the expletives to travel clearly through cement walls in an adjacent room where the media can clearly hear them.
Forward Josh Smith’s expletives aimed at a Clippers coach could be deciphered in the aftermath of the game, and honestly, it probably shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Woike added more about the curses coming through the walls: “Profanities and yelling made their way through the cement walls separating the Clipper locker room from an adjacent room where the media was waiting to speak to head coach Doc Rivers.”
First thing to caution readers: This happens a lot. Maybe not at the decibel level Woike describes, cement is a pretty solid buffer after all, but when you’re a title contender and a third-straight loss — coming at home, no less — pushes your record under .500 on the year (6-7, the first time in Chris Paul’s time in L.A. he’s had a losing record after three games), then players are liable to erupt.
But Doc, Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick and Paul all downplayed things afterwards, while reiterating how frustrated they’ve become after the start to the season.
Here’s what Blake said, by way of Janis Carr of the Orange County Register:
“We are pretty frustrated. It has been three [losses] in a row. I think that is pretty normal to be frustrated. But we can’t let that frustration affect us negatively moving forward and I think we need to do a good job of sitting down, being real and understanding what the problems are right now. But frustration is to be expected. This is my sixth season now and there are always times of frustration, especially after losses, especially after a string of losses and especially after some games you think you should not have lost. It is something we will work on and keep moving forward.”
Redick appeared to allude to Smith’s outburst and tie it directly to their slow start:
“Things happen during the course of a game. Your frustration level either increases or decreases based on the final result. It’s like a level of tolerance you have with yourself or with other people. The end result dictates your mindset.”
And Chris Paul appeared to put the onus on himself and the rest of the starters.
“We have to get off to better starts. It starts with me. I think I was the biggest minus on the court tonight. Defensively, we have to have better starts. For us to come out and play like that in the second half, there is no reason we should have been down 29 at the half.”
“It is tough because I know we are a lot better than we are showing. We have to get more consistent. We put together these great 10 minute stretches, 16, 18 minute stretches and we have not been able to put together a full game, 48 minutes. In order to be a good team in this league, you have to be able to do that.”
Paul was right, he was the biggest minus on the court last night (-15), but the team needs to become more consistent as a collective. Defense, in particular, is a problem despite how well they stymied Toronto during long stretches on Sunday. They’re in the bottom 10 in defensive rating this season — No. 22 — and while they’re still scoring at a top-five clip this year, they’re giving up a ton of second-chance points while losing the rebounding battle on an almost nightly basis.
DeAndre Jordan might be one of the best five rebounders in the game, but then why are the Clippers rank in the bottom five for opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, per NBA.com? Why are they fouling so much and giving up so many easy points at the charity stripe (No. 24 in opponent’s free throw rate)?
The Clippers are in a rut, so Smoove’s outburst isn’t wholly unexpected. It’s what comes next that’ll matter most. The Clippers are in Denver on Tuesday, but then they fly back to Los Angeles for a six-game homestead at Staples, that fans should hope puts them right back on track for the championship that’s looking less and less likely as the losses mount.