Playing on the road against a quality Timberwolves squad, even one missing its best player, wasn’t going to leave the Clippers much wiggle room. It takes a top performance, one that Doc Rivers’ team just couldn’t muster.
The Clippers fell behind in the third quarter of what might have been their last best chance to climb back into the playoff picture and never really threatened again, falling 123-109 in Minnesota.
That third quarter was a crusher. Trailing by one meager point after a loose but wide-open first half, the Clippers missed their first nine field goal attempts, finally finding the bottom of the basket after a torturous five minutes and a 13-0 Wolves run.
The Clippers, shorthanded once more, couldn’t buy a bucket for whole stretches. Tobias Harris started despite battling the flu, but took a horrific fourth foul call early in the third, robbing Doc Rivers of a desperately needed weapon. Tobias finished with just 10 points on five-of-16 shooting, looking justifiably sluggish throughout.
Worse, though, was the Clippers’ defense. An early third quarter entry for bench ace Lou Williams provoked some scoring, but the Clippers failed to find the defensive stops necessary to mount a credible comeback. Minnesota guard Jeff Teague ran amok after a quiet first two quarters, scoring 17 of his 20 points after the half and notching 12 assists.
Karl-Anthony Towns had himself a game too. The young star, and heir to Dirk Nowitzki’s throne, poured in 30 on better than 50% shooting. The Clippers simply had no answer for the sweet-shooting seven-footer, who sank three from deep and seven from the free-throw line.
Although, for the first 24 minutes, the Wolves themselves were bedeviled by a big man. DeAndre Jordan was LA’s lone bright spot in the first half, dominating the paint for 16 of his total 18. He also finished with 12 rebounds and three assists.
But there was little else, save for the occasional spark from deep-bench contributor Sean Kilpatrick, who was tabbed for reserve action next to Lou. Kilpatrick nailed two threes to end the first quarter and threw his stout frame at the rim on multiple possessions to tally 15 points.
Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic scuffled. (Milos more literally — with the much larger Towns.) The two starting guards combined for 21 points and 19 missed field goals. Milos, with little room to work, was credited just two assists.
It was the opposite story for Tom Thibodeau, who found offense — or maybe a lack of opposing defense — everywhere. Clipper-killer Andrew Wiggins netted 27 and drained four of five threes. Taj Gibson rampaged for 15 points on six-of-eight shooting. Jamal Crawford celebrated his 38th birthday with a timeless 20 points. Even Derrick Rose looked spry, springing to the rim for nine points before a bum ankle took him out after just seven minutes.
The Clippers’ fourth-quarter renaissance never happened, and Doc turned to the end of his bench to save his key players for tomorrow’s tilt in Milwaukee.
It’s not over for the Clippers, but four straight losses leave them three games out of eighth, two behind in the loss column. And with a two-game swing having gone the Wolves’ way, it certainly feels over.
- Montrezl Harrell had his first mediocre game in what seems like forever, managing just nine points on 33% shooting.
- Want more signs of the Wolves’ offensive dominance? (Or perhaps the Clippers’ defensive impotence?) Minnesota shot 52/40/96 for the game.
- There is some hope to be had: Danilo Gallinari told reporters today that he hopes to return by month’s end. Too little, too late, perhaps.