LOS ANGELES — “They hate them.”
That was Clippers coach Doc Rivers 90 minutes before tip-off Saturday of a 12:30 p.m. game, foreshadowing his team’s performance against Memphis.
When the ball did go up, the sleepy Clippers got their doors blown off. At home. Memphis put up 40 points in the first quarter, led by as many as 18 early, and cruised to a 140-114 win in Staples Center where they were clearly the better team all afternoon.
Postgame, the Clippers had a lot more energy than they showed on the court — and they were their own harshest critics.
“We’re not a great team. We’re not a great team…” Clippers’ center Montrezl Harrell said. “I think that’s what we need to realize and wake up. We’re a team that still has to figure out things to win night in and night-out.”
“No defense, no communication, no energy…” is how Kawhi Leonard described the Clippers’ effort, noting this is not the first time Los Angeles has been flat like this. “We’ve had a lot of wake up calls. I feel like it’s the middle of the season and some of the mistakes that we’re making, we shouldn’t be making at this time.”
Things got so bad that in the fourth quarter that the 25-12 Clippers heard boos from the home fans.
“Us as a team that should wake you up,” Harrell said of the boos. “Losing by 20-plus points on your home floor, getting embarrassed, and booed by your home fans, that should wake anybody up.”
Does Doc Rivers know what his team’s identity is?
“No. And that’s a concern,” Rivers said postgame.
Part of that is injuries, the Clippers have had their full starting lineup and rotation for one game this season. On Saturday, both Patrick Beverley (wrist) and Paul George (tight hamstring) were out. Both could go Sunday against the Knicks.
That opened up room for Memphis rookie Ja Morant to operate, and he put on a show scoring 22 points. That included dropping Jerome Robinson (with a little shove), staring him down, and draining the three.
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) January 4, 2020
“We knew it was an early game, I’ve been part of a few, and the team that wants to play usually wins,” the Grizzlies Jae Crowder said. “We was preaching that in [the locker room], we wanted to throw the first punch and that’s what happened.”
Crowder wanted to play — he scored 27 and hit 6-of-11 from three. It’s the perfect game to showcase yourself for a trade to a contender… if you wanted that kind of thing.
Rivers is not freaking out over this one loss, particularly because this is a franchise that publicly and privately has said they are focused on being right for the playoffs, not a Saturday game in January. This is the ultimate big-picture team.
Rivers added he knows his team is not where it needs to be.
“I’m not alarmed because our record’s terrific,” Rivers said. “I just don’t think right now we’re ready yet, and I see that, but I’m not alarmed by it.
“I just don’t want us to think we’re good enough yet… because we’re not… We’re just not playing well.”