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Clippers Out-Hustled by Bucks, 97-96

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In the first of back-to-back games, the L.A. Clippers let one slip away against the Milwaukee Bucks.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The L.A. Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks both knew exactly what to expect coming into tonight’s game. They met in Milwaukee less than two weeks ago, resulting in a 112-101 Bucks win. In that matchup, the Clippers committed 23 turnovers which turned into 41 Bucks points. The Bucks’ length, athleticism, and grit were too much for the Clippers to handle then, and too much to handle tonight as well.

The Clippers and Bucks kept it fairly competitive much of the night, exchanging numerous ties and lead changes. In fact, the Clippers cleaned up many of their mistakes from their previous matchup. The Clippers led the Bucks in points scored in the paint, field goal percentage, free throws made, free throws attempted, total rebounds, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, assists, and blocks. In spite of all of that, the Bucks played to their own strengths and forced difficult shots, ran the Clippers off of the three-point line, and turned gritty defense into easy transition offense.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton led the way for the Bucks, with 16 points apiece. Four other Bucks scored in double figures, and every Bucks player tallied at least 3 points or 3 rebounds. For the Clippers, DeAndre Jordan led the way with 22 points and 17 rebounds, followed by Blake Griffin’s 18 points and 7 rebounds. Chris Paul, coming off of consecutive 30-point games, didn’t even approach double-digit scoring, tallying an uncharacteristically-low 6 points while shooting just 20% from the field. In a tough night for the Clippers, one where they should have walked away the victors, they fell to the Bucks, 96-97.

Make or Miss League

Despite outscoring the Bucks in the paint 46-36, a pretty significant aberration from their last meeting, shots just weren’t falling for the Clippers. When examining all of the areas the Clippers dominated in this game, poor shooting probably hurt them the most. Despite shooting 46.7% from the field on 75 attempts and 72.4% from the free throw line on 29 attempts, they shot just 20.8% from beyond the arc on 24 attempts.

Give credit to the Bucks, who contested shots well all night and executed defensive switches with excellent awareness. As they did last game, they held the Clippers below their season average of 27.3 three-point attempts per game. Three-point shooting is a major part of the Clippers’ offense, and they sometimes look lost without it. But misses from beyond the arc weren't the only shooting factor.

J.J. Redick, a 89% free throw shooter in the 2016-17 season, as well as in his entire NBA career, missed 3 free throws in 9 attempts. DeAndre Jordan even shot a better percentage from behind the stripe tonight, making 4 out of 5 attempts (80%). Had one or two of those uncharacteristic Redick misses gone in, the Clippers might have walked away with a win, or at least forced overtime. It’s unfair to much of any blame on Redick, but in a close game such as tonight’s, every bit matters.

Taking Care of the Ball

The Clippers had 23 assists on 35 made field goals, while the Bucks has 22 assists on 34 made field goals; in this regard both teams took care of the ball fairly well.

Turnovers, however, were once again a factor against the Bucks. While the Clippers didn’t commit the staggering 23 turnovers that they did in their last meeting with the Bucks, they did commit 16 tonight. The Clippers now rank 7th in the league in turnovers committed, averaging 13.2 per game. The Bucks pushed them a bit beyond that number with their length, speed on switches, and attention paid to passing lanes. More importantly, however, they converted those 16 turnovers into 18 points. Conversely, the Clippers forced just 11 Bucks turnovers, only managing to convert those into 1 point. Of those 16 Clippers turnovers, 8 came from Bucks steals. Of the 11 Bucks turnovers, only 3 were Clippers steals.

The Clippers have surely had careless lapses at the offensive end, but getting back on defense, especially in transition, will be vital if they hope to contend against the other Western Conference powers.

Bench Woes Continue

The Clippers starters all scored well, aside from Chris Paul (an outlier we’ll all live with). They combined for 71 of the Clippers 96 total points. The Bucks’ bench outscored the Clippers’ second unit 44-25. And if you exclude Jamal Crawford’s 14 points, the rest of the bench combined for just 11 points. This is a worrisome pattern that has developed since Chris Paul’s return.

Sure, Jamal Crawford has bailed them out some nights. And Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights have had some very efficient scoring nights in limited minutes. But Austin Rivers has dropped off significantly from everywhere on the floor offensively, while Wes Johnson has become a non-factor as Brandon Bass has sat out many games. And Alan Anderson, who has the potential to be a two-way spark, doesn’t even see minutes unless it’s garbage time or if foul trouble has become a major factor in the game. They’ve progressively slipped defensively as well, as they did tonight. The Bucks closed the 1st quarter on an 11-0 run, putting their reserves up against the Clippers’. The Clippers’ second unit is running out of time to regain their chemistry and rhythm. And with tomorrow night’s game in Denver against the Nuggets and Saturday’s game hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers, don’t expect much from the bench any time soon.

Final Thoughts

The Clippers still have some time to piece things together, but right now, they don't look like a team to be feared in the West. Their struggles against lesser opponents and inconsistent level of energy really are worrisome. Overall, their bench has gotten worse, their defense has gotten worse, their offense has slowed down, and their body language isn’t great. Night to night, they rarely look like they have fun anymore, and it appears that internal and external pressure is mounting. It’s difficult, and probably short-sighted, to place so much emphasis on any individual matchup, especially tonight. But the Clippers just aren’t trending the way they need to at this time of year. But let’s try to keep some hope alive that, when the playoffs come around, the Clippers will surprise us all and shift into another gear.