Commentary

Fourth quarter haunts Clippers again

Updated: January 2, 2011, 10:40 PM ET
By Pedro Moura | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Giving up 37 points in a fourth quarter can erase a whole lot of good, the Clippers learned Sunday in the process halting some promising recent progress they had made in down-the-stretch situations.

Pessimists would call it the same old story for the Clippers, who led by as many as 16 points in the first half but gave it away in the second as the visiting Hawks outraced them late for the 107-98 win.

"In the second half, we didn't stop them at all," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said afterward. "They just scored almost at will against us.

"Our energy defensively was not good enough."

It wasn't offensively, either, Del Negro later said -- at least in the second half. L.A. was ultra-effective on both sides of the ball in the first half, shooting 61 percent from the field while holding the Hawks a hefty 15 percent below their season average.

Forward Blake Griffin had 19 points and seven rebounds in the first 24 minutes. Guards Baron Davis, Randy Foye and Eric Bledsoe combined for 22 points and eight assists. The Clippers led, 53-42.

[+] EnlargeJamal Crawford
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesJamal Crawford showed the Clippers why he earned the Sixth Man of the Year Award last season by coming off the bench to score 24 points.

But that was as good as it got. Atlanta guard (and reigning Sixth Man of the Year) Jamal Crawford came off the bench in the third quarter to score nine straight points and spark the Hawks, and they would later take the lead with sixth minutes left in the game on a goaltending call on Clippers center DeAndre Jordan.

Atlanta continued to pile on the points. From the point Crawford came on in the third quarter to the end of the game -- a 16-minute period -- the Hawks outscored the Clippers, 49-27.

"We got a little stagnant offensively ourselves, but it was more the defense where we struggled in the second half," Del Negro said.

What specifically changed from half to half?

The Clippers weren't keen on giving exact answers, instead sticking with the offense explanation. First-year Hawks head coach Larry Drew made a couple shrewd observations, though.

After the game he said the Hawks began sending over help to defend Griffin almost as soon as he touched the ball, which almost immediately got the Clippers out of sync. Atlanta also made a conscious effort to prevent L.A. from working its potent pick-and-roll with Griffin and Davis and any other possible tandem. Even more, the Hawks did everything they could to pump up the pace and do away with the half-court offense in the second half.

And the Clippers fell into that trap, it appeared.

"We have to make adjustments," said Davis, who finished with 15 points and five assists. "We just didn't make the right adjustments."

In that way, this game was similar to L.A.'s loss to the Jazz on Wednesday, when the Clippers were outscored by 14 points in the second half and ended up losing by eight.

Del Negro said he didn't like how his team played in the second half in either game.

"We have to learn to take our game to the next level in terms of the intensity," he said. "We haven't done that yet consistently.

"If we're gonna learn anything from these games, the execution gets tighter in the second half, and we right now don't understand that very well and we are not executing when we need to."

That lack of execution covers both sides of the ball, but the Clippers intimated their offensive and defensive struggles were interconnected on this day.

"We came out and our offense was stale -- we didn't move the ball," said Griffin, who finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds, good for his 21st consecutive double-double. "And it kinda affected us on defense, and that can't happen.

"We just need to get to the point where nothing affects our defensive performance."

Gordon, in particular, struggled early on offense and was encumbered by foul trouble. In turn, when he was defending Crawford at times late in the game, he looked flustered.

He finished with 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting and was asked afterward if he could recall any games or stretches in his three-year career in which the Clippers consistently closed out games.

"Not too many," he said. "It's good that we've been winning games lately against good and bad teams, but sometimes in a situation like this, against a good team, you've just gotta put it away.

"We're very capable of doing it; we just need to do it."

The Clippers (10-24) had managed to do it fairly well in the six-game stretch preceding the Utah game, winning 5-of-6, including three wins by five points or fewer. But Sunday was a definite hiccup.

"We were finishing out games," Griffin said. "We would stay in the game the whole time and we would finish it out, and that's what has to happen.

"If the game's close, we have to be the team that comes up with the game-winning plays."

Final notes: Griffin added another highlight-reel dunk to his resume with a first-quarter alley-oop from Davis that he caught with his right hand on the way down. ... Jordan played 40 minutes for the second consecutive game Sunday, only the seventh 40-plus minute game of his three-year career. ... Said Crawford of L.A: "The Clippers are a much better team their record indicates. I love watching the guys play, and I think they have a bright future."

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