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Clippers try to draw the line at missed free throws

They go to work in practice to address issue that has plagued them all season, even as Game 3 win masks issue. Their free-throw shooting percentage Saturday, 43.3%, sets an NBA playoff record.

May 06, 2012|By Baxter Holmes

So, did the Clippers spend Sunday's practice working on free throws?

"That's funny," said a smiling Coach Vinny Del Negro. "Is that the big joke?"

That's one way to refer to the Clippers' inability to make an unguarded 15-foot shot.

Just don't try that gag on Clippers fans after their team's 87-86 win Saturday against Memphis.

In that game, the Clippers missed 17 of 30 free throws, including five straight with less than 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter that helped Memphis hang around and nearly steal a win.

That free-throw shooting percentage — 43.3% — is the worst in NBA playoff history when a team had a minimum of 30 free-throw attempts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"We were able to overcome it," Del Negro said, "but you've got to be good in a lot of other areas if you miss that many free throws."

Having Chris Paul helps. He was clutch in Game 3, leading the Clippers to a win and a 2-1 series lead in their Western Conference first-round playoff. Game 4 is set for Monday at Staples Center.

But experience also helps, and the Clippers have plenty when it comes to missed free throws.

During the regular season, they ranked 29th out of 30 teams in free-throw shooting percentage (68%) and missed about seven free throws per game.

Yet in games in which they missed more than seven free throws, the Clippers' record is 17-10. And in games in which they missed 15 or more, they are 4-1.

But had Rudy Gay hit a buzzer-beating three-point shot Saturday, Memphis would have reclaimed home-court advantage and L.A. sports radio would've been filled with preachers of fundamental basketball, i.e., free throws.

Instead, the Clippers escaped, masking an issue that has plagued them all season, which winning tends to do.

"We had everybody in here shooting free throws" Sunday, guard Nick Young said.

Young had an idea as to why they missed 17 in Game 3.

"Some players haven't been in that situation, especially with us being in the playoff atmosphere," Young said. "You've really got the game in your hands when you're at the free-throw line. That can be a lot of pressure, with everybody telling you, 'We need this shot, we need you to make these free throws.' "

Del Negro has talked ad nauseam about free-throw struggles all season. He repeated his motto on the subject Sunday: "The bottom line is you've got to make the free throws."

Tuff enough

Caron Butler's nickname is Tuff Juice. It's also in his Twitter handle: @realtuffjuice

He said he earned that moniker during his 2006-07 season in Washington when he played through injuries, and he lived up to it again by playing with a fractured left hand in Game 3.

"There was no way there were going to be able to keep me off the court," said Butler, who played 22 minutes and scored four points with a brace on his hand.

He suffered the injury in the third quarter of Game 1, missed Game 2 and was supposed to be sidelined for four to six weeks. But Butler suffered a ruptured right patellar tendon last season while playing with Dallas that kept him out of the playoffs and he wouldn't let an injury do that again.

"I'm not going to be denied," he said.

He said he's been told that his injury will come down to pain tolerance and that it can't be broken any more than it already is.

"The role that I'm playing right now," he said, "I can play with no hands."

That role is mainly to guard the 6-foot-8 Gay.

"From an offensive standpoint, whatever I can give is a huge plus," Butler added.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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