The Clippers were behind the entire game-- they never had a lead, and trailed by as much as 19 points in the 3rd quarter. They made a push in the late 3rd and early 4th quarters to trim that deficit down to three points, but were never able to crawl ahead. Strong performances by several Clippers weren’t enough, as the Clips just couldn’t string together enough stops.
The Clippers came out of the gate with low energy, giving up easy looks to the Timberwolves for most of the 1st quarter. They were lethargic closing out to shooters, didn’t offer resistance in the paint, and generally let the Wolves get whatever they wanted. Their offense was a little bit better, as they moved the ball pretty well themselves. Danilo Gallinari came out early for Jamil Wilson (he had a minutes restriction), and Montrezl Harrell continued to get minutes at center over Willie Reed. Dekker replaced Wilson at power forward to start the second quarter, and had a nice dunk off a cut, but missed his only jumper. Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell both made plays on offense driving to the hoop, and Evans finally drained a three after many misses. The Clippers were kind of hanging around, even when the starters came back, but couldn’t really make any inroads on the Wolves’ lead, which continued to slowly grow.
The same pattern continued in the 3rd quarter, and Doc responded by reinserting Lou Williams and Wilson. That lineup finally began to get a few stops, and an 8-0 run brought the Wolves lead of 19 down to 11. As more reserves came into the game, the Clippers’ energy mounted, and they looked on the verge of turning the game around. Wes Johnson was swatting shots, Montrezl Harrell was gobbling up offensive rebounds, and Lou started to cook. At one point, the Wolves’ advantage fell all the way to 3. At that point, however, Jimmy Butler took over again, and a quick 6-0 run basically ended the game. The Clippers never got to a one possession difference again, and the Wolves coasted to the win.
· Gallinari Struggles in 1st Game Back: It was great to see Gallo back out there, and he had some nice moments. On the whole, however, he was a negative in this one, and him playing down the stretch over Jamil Wilson might have actually helped cost the Clippers the game (Gallo was a team worst -11, while Wilson was a team high +10). He shot only 2-13 from the field and 1-5 from three, scoring 7 points (two of which came on free throws when the game was over). His defense wasn’t abjectly horrible, but it was not very good either, and he couldn’t stay in front of Jimmy Butler or box out Taj Gibson. His legs clearly weren’t under him yet: almost all of his jumpers missed short, and he couldn’t finish around the rim several times due to lack of explosiveness. As he plays more he should start to look better, for sure. This still wasn’t exactly the triumphant return Clippers’ fans might have hoped for.
· Doc Switches Up Rotations: Gallinari starting meant Wilson returned back to the bench. However, after playing the last four minutes of the 1st quarter, Doc put in Sam Dekker in his stead for the first few minutes of the 2nd. Dekker also played the last minute of the quarter to give Gallo a breather. Wilson, however, was brought back in the 3rd quarter and played a full 12-minute stint, with Dekker not re-entering the game. I like that Doc is experimenting with different lineups, but there just doesn’t seem to be much reason to play Dekker over Wilson right now. Dekker is a better cutter, sure, and is a great option running to the hoop in transition. But Wilson is a quicker and more active defensive player, a superior passer, and a higher caliber shooter. While Wilson’s time with the Clippers continues to tick (he can only spend 45 days with the team due to his two-way contract status), he should be the full-time backup power forward at present. He’s earned it.
· DJ Beasts On the Boards: This was a great game for DJ, though he struggled somewhat on the defensive end. He was simply monstrous on the glass tonight, gobbling up 21 rebounds, including an incredible 12 on the offensive end. He provided so many second chances to the Clippers tonight, and had several terrific tip-ins. Jordan was as efficient as always (8-12 from the field, 2-3 from FT line), and was a massive part of the Clippers’ comeback. On the other hand, he had no blocks, and the Wolves scored in the paint far too easily. If he had been a bit stronger defensively earlier in the game, the Clippers might not have been down so much. Regardless, this game was a perfect demonstration of how much DJ brings to the table, and how much the Clippers would lose if they traded him.
· Jamal Has a Very Jamal Performance in Return: The Clippers played a video tribute to their longtime bench stalwart tonight during the first timeout break, and the crowd responded by giving Jamal a standing ovation (encouraged by Clippers’ players raising their arms from the bench). Jamal gave a bow to the crowd, and seemed appropriately moved. While he only played 17 minutes, he scored 11 minutes in that time, including a critical moonshot three in the 4th quarter with the shot clock running down. It was a shot that Clippers’ fans have seen many times over the years when Jamal was on the Clips. It’s just too bad that it came against his former team. Nonetheless, it was good to see Jamal back at Staples Center, and he was very complimentary of the Clippers in pre-game interviews.
· Wes Johnson’s Defense Was Beautiful: Wes isn’t the greatest on-ball defender, but he’s easily the best off-ball defender on the Clippers. He had several gorgeous blocks, and absolutely hounded the Wolves all night long. His shooting was sadly off (4-11 total and 0-5 from three), yet that isn’t as pressing an issue as long as he plays with this much energy and hustle. He was particularly impactful in that Clippers’ run at the end of the 3rd quarter, and Doc was clearly reluctant to take him out of the game.
· Road Ahead: The Clippers’ next game isn’t until Saturday against the Wizards. Milos might be back for that one (though probably not), and Gallinari should be a bit more ready. The Clippers might actually be favored against the John Wall-less Wiz, though they will have their hands full with Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. After that game, the Clippers hit the road for a four game trip.