Clippers fall to 0-4 with James Harden despite eerily familiar fourth-quarter comeback attempt vs. Grizzlies
Last season, the Los Angeles Clippers got off to lengthy losing streak soon after adding a former MVP guard (Russell Westbrook). In a desperate bid to turn their season around, they faced the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies at home, who were missing, among others, star point guard Ja Morant. The Grizzlies held a double-digit lead to open the fourth quarter, but a furious Clippers rally led to a come-from-behind victory that got them back on the track. They finished that season 11-6, and, if it weren't for injuries, they may have made some noise in the postseason.
On Sunday, the Los Angeles Clippers found themselves in an eerily similar position. They entered a home game against the Grizzlies with an 0-3 mark since they traded for former MVP guard James Harden. Just as they did last season, the Grizzlies were without Morant and a number of role players, and just as they did last season, the Grizzlies built a double-digit lead going into the fourth quarter. The Clippers managed to erase that deficit just as they did a season ago, using a 16-5 run to start the fourth quarter to tie things up at 84.
The similarities, unfortunately, for the Clippers, ended there. Desmond Bane scored nine big points and reserve big men David Roddy and Bismack Biyombo made just enough big plays near the rim to secure a 105-101 Grizzlies win, just their second of the season. The Clippers fell to 0-4 with Harden. Now, with a road trip to Denver looming, the Clippers are staring down the barrel of the same 0-5 start they endured with Westbrook a season ago.
Harden struggled mightily in his fourth Clipper loss. He shot 4-of-12 for 11 points, four rebounds and three assists, but more troublingly, the Clippers lost the 29 minutes that he played by 28 points and won the 19 minutes that he sat by 24. Through four games, the Clippers have lost Harden's minutes by 67 points. In all other minutes this season, they have outscored their opponents by 85 points.
Clippers coach Ty Lue emphasized the team's need for Harden to be selfish after the loss. "Just play, do your thing," Lue told reporters after the game. "If you're doing too much, we'll let you know." When the Clippers landed Harden, he set the expectation that he would play that way. "I'm not a system player, I am a system," Harden said. He is averaging nine shots in around 31 minutes per game as a Clipper. Given his defensive weaknesses, Harden needs to be an elite offensive player to justify heavy minutes.
Still, it's only been four games. Part of the advantage of trading for Harden in October rather than playing hard ball on price and getting him later in the season is that the Clippers will have plenty of time to try to figure out how he fits on their roster. But so far, the trade has been a disaster. The 76ers haven't lost since trading Harden, and the Clippers haven't won. If a home game against the Morant-less Grizzlies isn't enough to get the Clippers going, it's hard to say what will.