Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, right, tries to block the inbound pass of Orlando Magic forward Josh McRoberts during the second half of their NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, in Los Angeles. The Magic won 104-101. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)The Clippers got caught in a trap Saturday afternoon.
On the day Grant Hill made his long-delayed and much-anticipated season debut, the Clippers' rhythm and efficiency ebbed and flowed and their 13-game home winning streak ended with a 104-101 loss to the Orlando Magic in front of a sellout crowd of 19,060 at Staples Center.
Vinny Del Negro walked into his postgame news conference with a copy of the final box score in one hand and a red pen in the other Saturday afternoon. The Clippers' coach was in a critical mood after a 104-101 loss in front of a stunned sellout crowd of 19,060 at Staples Center.
"An embarrassing performance for us today," Del Negro said firmly but without raising his voice. "We got outworked in every aspect: second-chance points, rebounding. We wanted to take the 3-ball out of the game and we didn't do that at all. Thenwe let them hang around.
"We got off to a pretty good start early and then we got a little complacent. We had loose possessions. Like I said, we let them hang around and then (Arron) Afflalo and (J.J) Redick hit some shots. We missed, and we got what we deserved."
What the Clippers (28-9) got was a loss that ended their franchise-record 13-game home winning streak and a harsh postgame review from Del Negro. The Clippers' defeat was their first at home since a loss Nov. 26 to the New Orleans Hornets.
"I didn't think we played very well against Dallas," Del Negro continued, "but we were able to secure a victory at the end (Wednesday). Today, we weren't able to get it done. It shouldn't have even come to that.
"I'm very disappointed in our effort."
The Clippers never trailed until the final minutes, but they also didn't build the kind of commanding lead that carried them to easy victories during the longest home-court winning streak since the 1978-79 team won 11 in a row at the San Diego Sports Arena.
Saturday's game looked like a layup, what with the Clippers tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA's best record and the Magic (13-23) mired in a 10-game losing streak. The Clippers raced away to a 13-point lead in the first half but couldn't maintain or extend their advantage.
Soon enough, the Magic were growing larger in the Clippers' rear-view mirror. Orlando tied the score three times, the last at 99-all on Redick's layup with 1:48 remaining. It didn't stay tied for long, with Redick swishing a 3-pointer for Orlando's first lead at 102-99.
Chris Paul countered with a jumper for the Clippers to make it 102-101.
Then, after Jamal Crawford was called for charging into Redick after an Orlando miss, the Clippers lost track of Nikola Vucevic, whose dunk made it 104-101. The Clippers tried to foul, but couldn't catch up to the ball after Redick passed to Josh McRoberts, who passed to Vucevic.
Crawford then missed what would have been a tying 3-pointer at the final buzzer.
"I got the ball in transition (after Lamar Odom blocked Jameer Nelson's shot) and I thought I saw Matt (Barnes) over there (on the right wing) and I thought I made the right decision, but J.J. Redick guessed right (and drew a charge)," Crawford said of his late offensive foul.
Of his missed 3-pointer in the closing moments, Crawford said the play broke down but "we tried to make the best out of the situation."
Blake Griffin scored 30 points for the Clippers and added eight rebounds and seven assists. Crawford scored 13 points in a reserve role but on only 4-for-12 shooting. Paul, Matt Barnes, Willie Green and DeAndre Jordan each scored 10 points, with Paul adding 16 assists.
Afflalo, a former UCLA star, scored 30 points. Redick had 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting in a reserve role and Vucevic, a former USC standout, added 18 points and 15 rebounds in the Magic's first victory since defeating the Washington Wizards on Dec. 19.
The Clippers built a 13-point lead in the first quarter, with Griffin scoring 12 points and Paul adding four points and five assists. But their second unit, which has been such a forceful presence this season, didn't extend the lead the way it has in the past.
It proved costly.
"There have been many games where we didn't get off to a great start and our bench has carried us all year long," Paul said. "Today was one of those days where we got it going and our bench didn't necessarily have it. It's days like this that we have to feed off each other, but today we didn't do that."