Bill Plaschke: The Clippers need to tone it down
The Clippers need to chill.
The Clippers need to stop acting like some young new movie star who feels it necessary to prove his street cred by trashing hotel rooms and tossing bouncers.
So far this season, the Clippers are the best team in Los Angeles and one of the best teams in the NBA’s Western Conference, a talented and energetic group, legitimate contenders who could play deep into spring.
Now they need to start behaving like it.
Now that they are in the process of erasing the traditional Clippers jinx off their resume, they need to lose the traditional Clippers chip off their shoulder and stop turning Lob City into Lob Alley.
Fellas, you’re good. We get it. You don’t need to throw a flagrant elbow to show us. You don’t need to pose after a dunk to convince us. And you certainly didn’t need to subject the city to nearly three hours of cheap stuff and chippiness Wednesday night to make your point.
What happened during parts of their 96-91 loss to the Lakers at Staples Center was unsightly and unbecoming, the Clippers bumping and grinding on the outmanned Lakers to the point of distraction. By the time it ended, it was the Clippers who had been flattened, blowing a game-long lead in the fourth quarter to a Lakers team that had risen to the fight, Pau Gasol lashing, Kobe Bryant snarling, Metta World Peace declaring war.
“All that physical stuff is fine,” said Bryant afterward. “But you better know who you’re messing with.”
In the end, the Clippers messed mostly with themselves, shrouding their high-flying brilliance with 10 more personal fouls that gave the Lakers 18 more free throws, which the Lakers converted into 15 more points. It was particularly ugly during their fourth-quarter meltdown, when the Clippers were hit with two technical fouls and one flagrant foul.
When asked about that chip afterward, Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro admitted, “Well, we do have one. I mean, we haven’t done anything yet.”
“We’re just out there trying to protect our team,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “We’re not going to let anyone run over us. We’re a family, and we’re going to protect each other.”
That’s all great locker room talk, but with the exception of a silly headlock administered by World Peace’s legs upon Blake Griffin’s head, the Lakers really weren’t trying to run over anybody until the Clippers ran over them.
“You have to know how far you can go,” Bryant said.
I know, I know, longtime Clippers fans probably think this column sounds crazy, and I don’t blame them. I’ve spent 15 years nagging at the Clippers to be tougher, and now that they are, I’m ripping them? It’s just that, finally, they have a chance to truly be proud, and it would be a shame to see them knocked out by pride.
“We talk about it all the time,” Chris Paul said. “We need to be tough, but we need to be smart about it.”
Sometimes the two attributes were just not in sync. Witness the final moments Wednesday involving Gasol and Paul. The men were jawing at each other while walking down the court after a foul. Once at the foul line, the 7-foot Gasol reached down and patted the 6-foot Paul on the head, causing Paul to angrily jump up and run his hand through Gasol’s hair.
More jawing ensued, and the game nearly ended in another incident with the two teams yelling at each other as they left the floor.
Paul later explained his anger by saying, “Don’t touch the top of my head like I’m one of your kids … I don’t like that. I don’t know if he’s got kids, but I’m not one of them.”
But here’s the thing. Gasol is so tall, yet so touchy, he is always tapping people’s heads or shoulders as a sign of gentle affection. He was actually trying to placate Paul by touching his head. As with other things that occasionally happen with Gasol, it just looked awkward.
“I’m sorry he felt that way,” Gasol said. “I do it all the time with my teammates. There’s nothing mean about it.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of the head games was that, according to one Laker, when Gasol realized the Paul was offended, he immediately apologized. At that point, Bryant stepped between them and ordered Gasol to stop apologizing and began snarling back at Paul.
“We feel like we let it get away from us,” Paul admitted later.
It did, and while the Clippers can blame their unraveled emotions on the Hallway Rivalry, their season is only going to get more intense. The playoffs will be even more intense. They will only become a bigger target. They need to calmly revel in it, not furiously fight against it.
“This is still a process for us,” said Del Negro, who has done a marvelous job integrating their basketball skills. “I want us to play physical, but I want us to be in control.”
For most of Wednesday night, the Clippers were clearly in control, even if they didn’t act like it. Surely they heard the ultimate sign of respect from the Staples Center upper deck late in the game, when, as the boos increased, a somewhat stunning chant emerged.
“Clippers [bleep], Clippers [bleep] …”
When is the last time Lakers fans even cared enough to notice their long-bedraggled neighbors, much less curse them in unison?
The Clippers are the hottest team in town. They need just to chill.
-- Bill Plaschke
Photo: Chris Paul reacts to Pau Gasol touching his head. Credit: Michael Nelson / European Press Agency