While this was a depressing and frustrating game for Clippers’ fans, it was a fairly entertaining contest, especially in the first half. Neither team was playing much defense, with the Thunder getting a barrage of open three pointers, while the Clippers pounded the Thunder in the paint. Every time the Clippers missed, it seemed like DeAndre Jordan was there for a putback. On the other end, despite foul trouble, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony couldn’t seem to miss at all, draining jumper after jumper. The game was tied 64-64 at halftime, but the Clippers actually seemed to be outplaying the Thunder going into the break.
The second half started ominously, with the Clippers announcing that Milos Teodosic was out for the rest of the game with a right foot injury (the same plantar fascia injury as earlier in the season). Despite this, the Clippers kept plugging away, spurred on by the interior dominance of DJ. Lou Williams, however, for the first time in what feels like months, was cold from the floor, and couldn’t get shots to fall from deep or around the basket. Sindarius Thornwell entered the rotation with Teodosic on the bench, and while he impressed as always with his defense, he completely lacks confidence on offense right now. The Clippers somehow went into the 4th up a single point, but the outlook was not great.
The 4th quarter started with a quick 9-0 Thunder run, which stretched into a 17-3 run lasting until almost the halfway mark of the quarter. The Clippers, with DJ and Blake out, could not buy a basket, and the Thunder were getting open looks at will. The return of the starters (such as they are) brought the Clippers’ offense back into gear, but it was too little too late, and they were never able to get within nine points the rest of the way.
Lou Finally Cools Off: Lou’s closing statline doesn’t look too bad- 26 points and 10 assists on 8-22 shooting- but he played much worse than that. A couple of his turnovers were of the “awful” variety, and 13 of his points came in the 2nd half of the 4th quarter when the Thunder were in virtual control of the game. He seemed to be pressing, especially in the 3rd and early 4th quarters, and some ugly shots resulted. With Austin out for at least a couple weeks, and Milos presumably joining him, the Clippers desperately need Lou to be in his regular All Star form to be competitive. Hopefully this was just a one game outlier.
DJ Beasts: DeAndre Jordan had one of the best offensive games of his career, scoring 26 points on 10-15 shooting, and hitting 6-7 free throws. He chipped in 17 rebounds for good measure, straight up bullying smaller Thunder defenders and even Steven Adams time and time again. His defense was a bit shakier, but it’s tough to blame him on nights like this. The Thunder were getting to the basket far too frequently, and it wears him out to cover everyone else’s mistakes for 38 minutes.
Limitations of Rookies Revealed: Tonight, after weeks of (relatively) terrific play, the weaknesses of CJ Williams, Jawun Evans, and Sindarius Thornwell were exposed. Williams and Thornwell were both left open behind the arc consistently, and failed to make the Thunder pay, shooting 0-6 from three-point land. While their defense was fine, neither were up to the task of stopping Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, or Paul George. That’s fine. George and Westbrook are two All-NBA players in their prime, and Melo is one of the greatest scorers ever. The issue is that the Clippers are relying on the rooks to guard those stars, and it just didn’t happen tonight. Evans was pesky on defense, but he got blocked at least three times around the basket, his small stature making it easy for Thunder defender Jerian Grant to reject his floaters and layups. The rookies all competed, as they have all season. It just wasn’t enough in this game.
Reinforcements Must be Called: Despite what the previous paragraph just said, the Clippers have received great production from their rookies all season, and it’s time to reward them. Not even out of desire, but out of need—with Rivers and Milos out, the Clippers have precisely three true guards on their roster (CJ is iffy), and they must get a 4th guard. That means several things.
1. CJ Williams’ contract has to be converted to a full NBA deal. He’s more of a small forward than a shooting guard, but he can still play there if needed, and the Clippers can use all the backup they can get.
2. That means room has to be cleared under the luxury cap, unless Ballmer and the Clippers are willing to eat the penalty. As we have been saying for weeks, the easiest solution is to dump Brice Johnson to a team with space. If the hesitation has been on attaching a 2nd round pick, that hesitation should be gone. Brice isn’t in the rotation, and he’s taking up a spot and space that could go to players who the Clippers will actually play. There’s no excuse to hanging on to him any longer.
3. Clearing Brice will also create enough room and space for two pro-rated minimum deals, meaning Jamil Wilson should get called up as well. The forward rotation is much more crowded than the guard spots right now, but Wilson deserves the contract, and his shooting is valuable anyway. Tonight was a perfect night for Wilson to get minutes over Thornwell, Williams, or Dekker at small forward, as the Clippers needed shooting in the worst way. With Milos and Austin out, they are shorter on three-point shooters than ever before. Jamil can help with that.
4. Sign Tyrone Wallace to a two-way contract, and bring him up immediately. Wallace has been absolutely balling out for the Agua Caliente Clippers, and his play warrants a spot on an NBA team. More significantly, the Clippers have precisely one real point guard on their roster right now (Evans), and only one player who can even somewhat manage the position otherwise (Lou). Wallace could get 8-10 minutes a game at point guard, relieving the ball-handling burden on Evans and Lou.
The Clippers now have to pray that Milos Teodosic’s injury isn’t too severe. Doc says he’s “day to day”, but that “it doesn’t look great”. If he misses significant time, the Clippers are going to lose a lot of games barring absolute magical play from Blake, Lou, and DJ, or at least one of the young guys making a substantial leap in production. Austin will be out at two weeks at minimum, almost certainly longer, and the Clippers just lack firepower and shot creation right now. Hopefully their young guys step up, or the playoffs could slip out of reach yet again, for good this time.
Doc on managing point guard minutes with Austin, Milos, and Beverley all out: "we'll figure it out by Saturday."— Lucas Hann (@LucasJHann) January 5, 2018
Doc considers Milos day-to-day, says he'll be evaluated tomorrow but "it doesn't look great, to be honest"— Lucas Hann (@LucasJHann) January 5, 2018