Somehow, someway, these Clippers are determined to fight until the bitter end.
A loss in Milwaukee on Wednesday would have been that end, extending their losing streak to five games and leaving them three losses out of 8th place with the toughest remaining schedule of the teams in the pack from 4th-10th in the Western Conference.
With a win, they’re only two losses out of 8th place with the toughest remaining schedule of the teams in that pack. Easy, right? They’ll need to make up that loss in Minnesota, likely by going 5-1 in the next six games, including contests in Indiana, Toronto, and Portland, and a re-match against tonight’s opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks, in Los Angeles.
Tonight’s win, frankly, comes as a bit of a surprise. The Bucks are an Eastern Conference playoff team, led by young superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Clippers were on the second night of a back-to-back, coming off of a four-game slide that made a playoff appearance incredibly unlikely. What was the difference between last night’s game in Minnesota and tonight’s game in Milwaukee?
Sometimes it’s really this simple: the Clippers made shots. Against the Timberwolves, LAC only managed to shoot 43% from the field and 8-24 (33%) from beyond the three-point arc. Against the Bucks, they shot 52.3% from the field and made 15 of their 30 attempts from deep. You aren’t going to lose many games where you shoot the ball like that, even when you defend like the Clippers do (they’ve allowed at least 120 points in their last four games).
It only helped the Clippers’ chances that Antetokounmpo didn’t play in the second half after turning an ankle in the first half. He finished with 12 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists in 17 minutes. Without him, the Bucks placed increased responsibility on Khris Middleton (23 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals), Eric Bledsoe (19 points, 8 assists), and Jabari Parker (20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists), but it wasn’t enough to outscore the visitors.
Defensively, Milwaukee lived up to their sub-par defensive metrics (19th in the NBA in defensive rating), as they proved unable to stop the Clippers’ attack. DeAndre Jordan controlled the paint, finishing with 25 points and 22 rebounds while dominating his match-up with John Henson, who had 10 points and 7 rebounds. Montrezl Harrel was his usual energetic self in relief of Jordan, posting 13 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in just 11 minutes.
On the perimeter, Austin Rivers led the barrage of Clipper buckets, scoring 22 points and hitting five of the team’s 15 three-pointers. Tobias Harris contributed 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists, while Milos Teodosic had one of his best offensive performances of the year, adding a hyper-efficient 15 points and 4 assists on 5-8 shooting. Lou Williams also had a strong performance off of the bench, finishing with 19 points and 8 assists on 6-11 shooting. It’s hard to beat the Clippers when all four of those perimeter scorers have good nights.
To round out the starting lineup, Wesley Johnson regained the small forward position from Sindarius Thornwell. Johnson recorded 7 points and 6 rebounds in a rather unremarkable 2-9 shooting performance. Thornwell, for his part, had 2 points, 2 steals, and 3 turnovers in 16 minutes off of the bench, highlighting Doc Rivers’ lack of good options on the wing.
For the Clippers, it’s a good road win that salvaged a bad losing streak and puts them on track to maybe make something good out of a treacherous two-week stretch that started disastrously. But the team can hardly feel good about themselves after this game, as there’s a long and brutal uphill climb ahead if they want to be in a position to make their head-to-head games against other playoff contenders in April meaningful affairs.