The L.A. Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks both entered the night with plenty of urgency to win. The 5th place Clippers, running out of time to establish home court advantage in the loaded Western Conference where only a handful of games separate 4th and 7th place, had the chance to dominate an opponent with a losing record. The Bucks, in 10th place and just a pair of games away from 8th place in the Eastern Conference, came into tonight’s matchup in the hunt for the postseason. In the end, the Bucks prevailed and downed the Clippers behind a stellar defensive effort and an efficient, well-rounded offensive attack.
It was a miserable first half for the Clippers, who found themselves down by double digits for the vast majority of it. The Clippers committed 16 first half turnovers, which the Bucks were able to directly convert into 30 points. Conversely, the Bucks took care of the ball exceptionally well, committing just 2 turnovers in the entire first half. The Clippers, whose poor shooting and costly passing errors were the largest factors in their first half woes, could not find an answer for the Bucks’ length, athleticism, and overall disruption in passing lanes. Greg Monroe, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Matthew Dellavadova were all major contributors at both ends of the floor during the first half. For the Clippers, outside of Austin Rivers’ 7 first half points and Marreese Speights’ 2, the reserves were scoreless, without an assist, and basically a non-factor at the defensive end.
The Clippers began the second half well, forcing several Bucks turnovers and keeping them scoreless through the first three minutes. The Clippers had greater defensive intensity, and took care of the ball much better. In fact, the Clippers had narrowed the game to within 3 points near the end of the 3rd quarter (down 77-74 with 1:41 remaining), behind the hot shooting of Chris Paul. The Clippers only dominated during the third quarter, where they outscored the Bucks 29-19. But the Bucks regained consciousness and played excellent basketball through the final quarter.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Clippers had given up 41 points off of turnovers, the most in franchise history. This occurred despite shooting more efficiently from the field and from behind the arc than the Bucks, and despite winning the rebounding battle 38-25.
Taking Care of the Ball
The Clippers committed 23 total turnovers, 16 of which had occurred by halftime. The Bucks turned those 23 turnovers into 41 points, nearly four times the final differential in points. Much of this was attributed to the Bucks’ length and disruption of passing lanes, but they were also able to draw the Clippers off of the three-point line very well and force them into poor interior passes. Outside-in passes were practically an exercise in futility, where the Bucks deftly clogged the paint while communicating and moving well off of switches.
Conversely, the Bucks took care of the ball very well. They only committed 2 first half turnovers, and 10 in the second half. They also moved the ball carefully, dishing out 35 assists on 44 made field goals. Because of this, they also got quality shot attempts, shooting 55% from the field, 40% from behind the arc, and 93.3% from the free throw line.
Getting to the Line
The Clippers, despite getting to the free throw line 36 times, only shot 58.3% from behind the stripe. Much of this can be attributed to DeAndre Jordan only making 4 of 13 attempts from the line. But aside from Jordan and Griffin, who combined for 26 free throw attempts, only four other Clippers even had free throw attempts. And by missing so many free throws, the Clippers left 15 points on the table, a number which more than accounted for the final point differential.
The Bucks, conversely, only went to the line 15 times but made all but one. They shot a staggering 93.3% from behind the line, taking advantage of the opportunity for uncontested baskets. And when the Bucks did score plentifully in transition, it was a clear sign that the Clippers could not keep up defensively with the Bucks’ athleticism, not even enough to commit a foul.
The Clippers, who have 21 remaining games after tonight, don’t have a ton of time to regain their rhythm and try to establish home court advantage. For the 10th place Bucks, who certainly needed this game much more than the Clippers did, this was a huge win. The 8th seed is within their grasp in the Eastern Conference.
For the Clippers, only half a game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies and just a game ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder, they could easily be in 7th place in the West in a matter of days. More worrisome than the seeding, however, is the manner in which they are playing. The Clippers were out-hustled by the Milwaukee Bucks despite their own bevy of talent. A game like this was unacceptable, as were the previous few losses. The Clippers reserves have dropped-off at both ends of the floor, and need to start playing smarter. The Clippers, this core group in particular, often plays at whatever pace its opponents demand. Its offense has become extremely predictable, so they must begin learning to move the ball better at a variety of paces. This certainly doesn’t look like the squad that began the season 14-2, and if the Clippers can't turn things around soon, their postseason aspirations appear to be nothing more than just that.