Upon emerging from the trainer’s room, Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul spent approximately 15 minutes having a heated yet professional exchange with two of his assistant coaches, Robert Pack and Dean Demopoulos. Verging on animated, Paul appeared to be discussing specific plays, potentially mixing in some team philosophies, both contributing to their seven-point loss to the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers.
Paul was forced to debate with assistant coaches, and later teammate Randy Foye, because their head coach Vinny Del Negro was long gone. The Clippers’ main man chastised his team for a complete lack of aggression, stating that they were out-manned by a team that happened to be on the second night of a back-to-back. Del Negro wouldn’t categorize the team’s effort as complacency — something that could have easily set in following the announcement of Kyrie Irving’s absence — but his team, on this night, was clearly the less physical.
“This is a game we should have came in here and won,” said Paul. “We obviosuly didn’t have the energy and that starts with me. It was as if we were the team that played last night – [the Cavs] came out and got us tonight.”
Adding to the complacency discussion is the fact that Paul was unaware of Irving’s absence until Ahmad Crump belted out the Cavaliers’ starting lineup. Instead, Paul was tasked with Ramon Sessions and Daniel Gibson, leading a unit with less top-to-bottom talent and athleticism to a win in front of more than 17,000 fans.
The attitude supplied by the Cavaliers may have merely caught the Clippers off guard. Admittedly, a west coast team tangled with a condensed schedule may not have had the fortune of seeing just how tough this current crop of Wine and Gold goes to battle every night. Gibson, in his first game back following a bout with infected neck tissue, would not only be placed into the starting lineup, but would provide several huge fourth-quarter plays when the game could have been had by either team. Take your pick: a strip on the defensive end, a go-ahead three-ball, or a handful of free throws which would ultimately put the game out of reach.
Anderson Varejao took multiple hard falls, the first of which looked as if it could end his evening. But once the fourth quarter arrived and Byron Scott appeared unwilling to let this one fall through his team’s fingers, the Big Brazilian was redeployed where he would make an impact throughout including a huge 15-foot jump shot from the right side of the floor as the shot clock expired. He would later say that he feels as if he’s from Cleveland given how much the fans within this town appreciate his endless supply of effort.
The Plain Dealer’s Tom Reed used a recent illness suffered by public address announcer Olivier Sedra as a referendum on the top-down nature of this team. Byron Scott’s post-game comments rang as if being spoken by a drill sergeant, stating that no one in the NBA is going to feel sorry for a franchise decimated by injury.
“You can respond one of two ways,” coach Scott said. “You can feel sorry for yourself and say one of our best players is out and go in the tank or you can respond like we did.”
If the league had not been made aware, the hard work, grit and determination — all handed down by the team’s second-year head coach — are combining to put on one heck of a show. They may not get the fanfare and national recognition of the team that came out on the losing end of Wednesday night’s ledger, but they’re undoubtedly playing like the city in which they live.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)