The Clippers’ start was somewhat reminiscent of the game against the Raptors on Tuesday. They moved the ball, played with energy, and generally seemed engaged. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tobias Harris did most of the heavy lifting offensively, and the Clippers got some open looks on drive and kicks. However, the defense remained ineffective, conceding open looks to the Spurs far too frequently. As the bench came in, the problem only worsened, as the Clippers’ offense began to falter, and the Spurs’ lead grew to double-digits.
The second quarter started slightly better, as the Clippers’ bench upped their defense, and were able to keep the lead to around 10 points after it went up to 15. Ty Wallace, while providing activity, noticeably crimped the offensive spacing, especially since the Spurs laid off Beverley as well, though Pat made them pay by draining two open threes. The Clippers’ starters played better yet when they checked back in, cutting the lead all the way down to four with some nice defensive possessions and more scores by Harris. However, the end of the quarter was a mini-disaster, with the Clippers allowing several easy scores, taking a horrible last shot (Gallo), and then getting a technical complaining about the lack of a call (also Gallo). So, the Clippers trailed by nine heading into halftime, 66-57, but with a free throw coming after the break.
The third quarter was where everything went wrong. A horrendous Gortat turnover sandwiched by two easy scores by the Spurs meant the Clippers were suddenly down 14 again, and that was just the beginning. The Clippers continued to fall, going down by as many as 19 points due to shaky defense and stagnant offense. They couldn’t get anything easy on offense, and the Spurs capitalized by running out in transition. The Clips were able to barely keep themselves afloat with a couple Avery Bradley buckets, but the Spurs continued to look the better team. Doc finally subbed Pat Beverley for Gortat with 4:00 left, in an attempt to go small. Unfortunately, the lineup didn’t really work, and the rest of the bench came in shortly thereafter. The Clippers were still only down around 18 points at this time, late in the 3rd, and the game was not totally out of reach. However, the Clippers continued to struggle, and trailed 21 going into the 4th.
To start the quarter, the Clippers had a couple bad turnovers, and these combined with Rudy Gay cooking from midrange meant the Clips were shortly down 25. The rest of the period was garbage time, with Doc putting in Ty Wallace and Boban alongside Sindarius, Beverley, and Scott. Sadly enough, the Clippers got thoroughly outplayed in garbage time too, proving unable to score, and letting the Spurs move the ball all over the court. The result was an embarrassing final score of 125-87.
- Defense falters yet again: The Spurs poured in 125 points tonight, which is a ton to give up, even in the modern NBA. The two most salient issues are first that the Clippers allowed 38 in the 1st quarter, which is a continuation of a trend where they fall behind in a fairly significant fashion in the opening period. Falling behind is obviously not good, as it means you have to scramble to catch up every game, which is both difficult and tiring. Second, not only were the Spurs scoring, but they were doing so easily. LaMarcus Aldridge is a tough matchup, sure. Still, the Clippers couldn’t keep anyone on the Spurs under wraps for any length of time except, funnily enough, leading scorer DeMar DeRozan. Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills got loose early, and guys of their ilk torched the Clips all night long.
- Montrezl Harrell continues to struggle: It’s reasonable to think that perhaps the biggest reason for the Clippers’ collapse in the past two weeks is the sudden and calamitous drop-off of Montrezl Harrell. Far from looking unstoppable on offense, he’s instead looked smothered, unable to get any shots off or get into any kind of rhythm. Worse, both his defense and rebounding seem to have declined as well: he’s just not making the same overall impact as he was a couple weeks ago. Now, Lou Williams’ absence the past couple games has hit him hard on offense, but his struggles started before then, and that doesn’t explain the other difficulties. My guess is that Trez has some kind of injury, but is playing through it because the Clippers desperately need his services. If he’s healthy, he needs to try to refocus on doing all those little things that made him such a dominant force for most of the early season, even if his offense falls off a little due to lacking his pick and roll partner in Lou.
- Offense is congealed: Perhaps what’s most worrisome about the Clippers’ recent slide is that their offense has tanked too, particularly in second halves. They just don’t have the ball movement that they had earlier in the season, and even when they do, it mostly just goes from side to side without giving them any kind of advantage. The Clippers scored just 20 points in the 3rd quarter, mostly with their starters in the game, and a mere 10 points in 4th quarter, which was entirely garbage time. Their defense has been bad for weeks, but their offense collapsing is what’s really prompted their losing ways.
- Switch up the starters: It’s past time to switch up the starting unit. In particular, playing Avery Bradley and either Marcin Gortat or Boban Marjanovic together for extended minutes is a recipe for disaster. Having two players who can’t shoot (Bradley can’t until he consistently proves otherwise, and teams are mostly leaving him open, killing spacing), create shots, or make plays for others is a losing combination, and it’s amazing that the Clippers’ starting 5 did as well as it did for as long as it did. But enough is enough. The Clippers could try Johnathan Motley instead of Gortat, if they want to keep a more traditional lineup. Or, they could go small by inserting another guard or wing instead of Gortat, and attempting to get the game off on the right foot with their best offensive unit. Gallo can’t play too much center, but he needs to play more of it, especially with Harrell slumping. I would be interested in starting Mike Scott, as he could also feasibly guard bigger players to give Gallinari or Tobias a break. Regardless, a change is clearly needed.
The Clippers play next on Saturday in a very tough game at Oklahoma City. Without Luc Mbah a Moute to guard Paul George, who has been a monster this season, the Clippers could be in for another long night.