The frustration was bubbling in the locker room after the Clippers lost to Memphis Saturday.
The team was coming off a listless win against the Detroit Pistons Thursday when they essentially used one good quarter to defeat an overmatched Pistons group. As Doc Rivers put it postgame, "It’s a win, it should have been a win, they were banged up, they had guys out, they’re on the road, so we took care of business. We did our jobs basically tonight."
The Clippers followed one lackadaisical effort with another against the Grizzlies. Even though they were without Paul George and Patrick Beverley, the team said that was no excuse for the type of effort they put forth and the series of defensive mistakes they made throughout.
Down the line, every Clipper was disappointed in the performance they game, one that resulted in the Staples Center crowd booing the home team for the first time this season.
From Rivers: "I think we just came to the game today, we showed up, and thought we were just going to win. And we got our butt kicked, and we deserved to.... There’s no excuses, we should play better. I got to coach better. And we should play better. There’s no excuses for the way we played tonight. None. And I am not going to make any."
From Ivica Zubac: "Energy. It came from the start. We didn’t come in with that energy and play super hard. I think that’s clear what it was. If we don’t start with energy then it’s hard to pick it up. We just gotta be ready from the start."
From Lou Williams: "We’ve had so much inconsistency and we just got to find even ground at some point. These games are flying by, we are getting to the halfway point. It’s only so much longer we can say we are trying to figure it out. We got to start figuring it out."
From Kawhi Leonard: "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."
And from Montrezl Harrell, perhaps the most stinging indictment of the team thus far: "We're not a great team. That's, I think, one thing that you all need to get out your minds. We're not a great team. We just became together this year. We have two players that haven't never been a part of this team last year. We have a player who won an NBA championship with a whole other team last year. So we're not a great team, that's no. 1 right there. That's what we need to realize and wake up. We're still a team that needs to figure out things we need to do to win, night in and night out."
The hard feelings hadn't resolved by Sunday. Rivers responded to an innocuous question about players settling into their roles by unloading on people comparing this year's team to last year's. He was peppery throughout the pregame availability, taking another shot at the NBA schedule makers during a question about the Clippers arena battle with James Dolan.
The Clippers finally got their ducks in a row during the second quarter and hung on late after George fouled out to earn a split on the back-to-back. But the energy of the locker room was still a little tense heading into essentially an off week for the team.
The question is: should it be?
The Clippers no-showed a couple of games against some lesser competition, and they finished 2-1 anyway in a four-day stretch. They didn't have their full lineup together for any of those games, and it begs repeating that the team has only had all 15 players healthy once all season during the Christmas win over the Lakers.
L.A. is 21-7 when Leonard plays and 14-4 when both Leonard and George play (or at least start the game, since this counts the win over Detroit). That's a 64-win pace with both stars on the court. The team's point differential is plus-9.1 when Leonard and George play together, the equivalent of the second-best team in the league this season, behind only Milwaukee.
Yes, the Clippers have been subject to inconsistency this season, but that's to be expected when a team uses 16 starting lineups over 38 games and is constantly juggling its second unit as a result. It's a little concerning to hear Rivers say he doesn't know the team's identity at this point in the season, but there is still time for the Clippers to figure that out.
The Clippers have the fifth-easiest schedule in the league remaining. Only five back-to-backs remain in the schedule, and they're about to have two consecutive practices with their full roster available, the first time this season that's been possible.
A year ago, the Golden State Warriors came into Los Angeles, a little banged up, lost to a young and feisty Clippers team, and had a locker-room kerfuffle that drew interest nationwide. They still made the NBA Finals.
The Clippers may have some issues to resolve as a team, but they have an incredible talent base to start from, and a record that will afford them some slippage through the process. It was a tough weekend for sure, but one whose repercussions likely won't be felt negatively for much longer.
"I think we wake up every day knowing exactly who the f*** we are every night. It is just for us to go out there and put it together collectively as a unit," Patrick Beverley said Sunday. "That takes time. But we will be better,."