There is an unwritten rule in the Tour de France, cycling’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, that if the leader of the race suffers a flat tire or any other issue that temporarily stops them from competing, other riders will not take advantage of the opportunity by turning up the dial.
There is, however, no such unwritten rule in the NBA, meaning that teams with injured players either need to find another way to win or get left in the dust.
And perhaps no organization is more aware of this reality at the moment than the Los Angeles Clippers (save for their crosstown rivals, the Lakers) who have been dealing with numerous injuries while still jockeying for playoff position amongst a brutally-stacked Western Conference.
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‘There’s No Pity Party’
The Clippers have been without starting point guard Patrick Beverley (knee) and starting center Serge Ibaka (back) since mid-March, and recently-acquired Rajon Rondo is still out with a groin/adductor injury. While L.A. has managed to keep their heads above water despite the injuries—even putting together a six-game win streak to finish out the month of March—with those guys out, they are precariously thin at point guard and center.
Making matters worse, on Thursday, superstar Paul George revealed to reporters that he is once again dealing with a bone edema in the second toe on his right foot. It’s the same issue that forced George to miss seven games in February, and it served as a reasonable explanation for his poor performance Thursday in a 101-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets. George was 5-for-15 from the field and 2-for-7 from behind the arc against the Nuggets, and he flubbed a wide-open layup in the midst of an ultimately doomed Clippers comeback.
But George understands that neither his toe nor any other injury besetting the Clippers will keep other teams from going full throttle against them. Certainly not the Nuggets, now winners of four straight, who are now suddenly more dangerous than ever since their trade deadline acquisition of forward Aaron Gordon from Orlando.
“There’s no pity party, nobody’s going to feel sorry for us because we’ve got guys out,” said George. “We’ve got to find ways to get the job done. And I think we’ve been doing that up until the last two games when we had some slippage. But I think overall, we’ve been finding ways to do it. That has nothing to do with [tonight]. Tonight, we didn’t bring it.”
Building an Identity
What the Clippers didn’t bring was intensity, particularly on the defensive end and particularly from the opening tip, a circumstance that allowed Denver to jump out to a double-digit lead by the end of the first quarter and forced the Clippers to play catch-up the rest of the way.
“For us, it’s just building habits and creating an identity, which you always want to do,” continued George. “I think as well as we have played this year, the identity of this team, we’re still trying to solidify that. So at some point, we’ve got to find who we are and stick to that as a team.”
And the identity George would like to see the Clippers solidify?
“We have got to be a tough team, a tough team that flies around defensively,” said George. “We are so good, we have so many athletes, when teams play us, that should be what they fear—that this team is scrappy and they fly all across the floor and they make plays defensively. And offensively, we’ve got enough to score and make plays, especially if our defense is rolling and our defense is leading to our offense. That’s when we are at our best. For us, it is really just hanging our hat and stepping up defensively.”