LOS ANGELES — There’s plenty at stake for the Los Angeles Clippers as they begin a second consecutive postseason for only the second time in their 29-year history in the city.
For the first time, the franchise has a 50-win season and a Pacific Division crown. They have one All-Star, Blake Griffin, locked up under contract and another, Chris Paul, who they hope will sign this summer to stay long-term. Finally, this notoriously cheap and irrelevant organization is slowly finding a small spot in the city’s heart.
So wouldn’t it be terrible if the Clippers allowed all that to slip away by allowing their hot heads to get in the way?
“That’s been our Achilles heel all season is losing our temper and I think I kind of set the tone,” Matt Barnes said after Saturday morning’s shootaround in preparation for tonight’s Game 1 against the physical Memphis Grizzlies.
Barnes said the Clippers are ready for a tough, physical series, the kind of grinding play that can instantly flare emotions and result in quick-trigger reactions. Barnes said he hopes the referees will let them play, but L.A. can’t worry about chirping at the refs or committing silly retaliatory plays if calls aren’t going their way.
“I’ve been telling these guys it’s a whole new attitude and stop getting in so much trouble,” Barnes said. “There’s a lot at stake, but you really don’t want to give anything away, you want to make a team earn everything. That’s something we’ll probably address before the game, something we’ve already addressed, so we kind of have to police each other out there because we know we’re susceptible to that.”
The Clips are among the top teams at drawing technical fouls. Griffin tied for the second-most during the regular season with 14. Center DeAndre Jordan and Barnes both got nailed 10 times and Jamal Crawford nine times. Even Lamar Odom‘s been T’d up six times and Paul five times.
During a late March game at Dallas, Griffin picked up a T with seven seconds to go in the third quarter that allowed the Mavericks to take the lead. Then Crawford got one a minute into the fourth quarter. The Clippers went on to lose in overtime. Those kinds of shifts on a technical foul can sabotage a playoff game, and undermine a series.
So can flagrant fouls, and L.A. is no stranger to those either. Speaking of playing intelligently, Barnes leads the Clippers with three Flagrant One penalties and one Flagrant Two. And reserve forward Ryan Hollins, whose minutes might get reduced against the Grizzlies, has three Flagrant One fouls.
The Clippers matched the Lakers as the only teams with two players in the top 10 in that dubious category.
“I know nobody on this team is a bad guy, like Blake has, I don’t know how many technicals, and he’s one of the nicest guys in the league,” Jordan said. “I think it’s really just a heat-of-the-moment type of thing. We get so caught up into the game and how competitive it is and sometimes your emotions get the best of you and you may snap for two seconds.
“But those two seconds are going to cost you some points and potentially a game. So we really have to harness our emotions in this series.”