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Clippers Go Big Over Cavaliers, 116-102

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The Clippers’ big men were too much for the Cavs too handle.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

If you ignore the seven mostly anonymous minutes played by 6’11” Ante Zizic, it was Larry Nance’s 6’9” 230 lb. body that was the biggest the Cavaliers put in front of the Clippers tonight. It wasn’t enough.

The suddenly oversized Clippers went over, through, and around the visiting Cavaliers, dominating the middle in a 116-102 victory. LA scored 58 points in the paint, one of several indicators of the Clippers’ outsized success.

DeAndre Jordan took the fullest advantage, exceeding his 20-point, 22-rebound performance in Cleveland last November with 20 and 23 tonight. He grabbed 16 boards in the first half and seven offensive boards for the game. Cleveland couldn’t counter his aerial prowess, with their helplessness crystallized in this flight from which DeAndre may not yet have landed.

The Clippers aggressively attacked the Cavs’ soft underbelly, using a 13-2 first-quarter run to take a lead that LeBron James and mates frequently threatened but never conquered. Both teams’ rejiggered rosters are far from ideal cohesion, but it was the Clippers’ that looked more comfortable in a game that was wild and reckless. The pace was fast, the game was loose, and the slightly more coagulated Clippers benefited from playing from in front.

That isn’t to say the Clippers played a perfect game. Far from it. Their defense is stiffer than Cleveland’s 28th-ranked unit but prone to its own wanderings. The Cavaliers found good looks throughout, falling behind more by the fault of their results than their process. They converted just a third of their three-point tries, with Jeff Green and Kyle Korver notably missing all nine of theirs.

However, one lucrative stretch to begin the second quarter saw the Cavs make hay with turnovers from the Clipper reserves. A lineup built around Lou Williams, Milos Teodosic, and Boban Marjanovic foundered, and the Clippers survived a Cleveland run largely by way of Montrezl Harrell’s tenacity.

Montrezl continued what DeAndre had started, gouging the Cavs from up close. He finished with 20 points in 20 minutes, devastating large swaths of the second and fourth quarters. The Clippers reclaimed the first half, ending it with a 14-point advantage.

Cleveland came back with early and late runs in the third quarter, despite having lost starting wing Rodney Hood and later his replacement, Cedi Osman. A 12-0 Cavs flurry narrowed the Clippers’ lead to as little as four.

Reenter Boban. Boban redeemed the bench lineup with a fourth-quarter pummeling while Montrezl continued his outright destruction. Lou Williams finally found his range (and his NBA-leading fourth-quarter scoring average) to keep the Cavs at arm’s length. Lou fought with his shot for long stretches but finished with 15 points and seven assists.

Tyronn Lue tried to extend the game with nearly two minutes of DeAndre hacking in the late fourth, but more competent free-throwing shooting from the big Clipper kept the lead afloat. Doc finally relented and pulled his star big man, but by the time the clock had ticked below 2:00 and DeAndre was tabbed to return, Tobias Harris had stuck a dagger in the Cavs from deep, sending Cleveland’s starters to the bench for good.

It’s high praise for this well-rounded Clipper team that I’ve spilled 500 words without yet mentioning Sindarius Thornwell, who merely started, defended LeBron all night and did so effectively, and scored a career-high 14 points with confident drives and decisive shooting. Thornwell wasn’t asked to check LeBron alone — Doc bent his defense in all manner of awkward directions to steer the ball into non-LeBron hands — but he met every challenge with aplomb, garnering a team-high +21 rating in 37 minutes.

Tobias also warrants his own space, seeing as he, you know, led the Clippers with 23 points and all. He made half his 10 three-point attempts, although I swear it felt like he never missed. The star wing fit seamlessly within Doc’s offense, improvising only when the team had exhausted all its other options.

The Clippers’ retooling effort continues to impress, especially when compared up close to another franchise undergoing a similarly dramatic facelift. Their postseason results may not match Cleveland’s — LeBron’s shot won’t regularly evade him like it did so often tonight — but for one night at least, LA looked further along in the process.

Notables:

  • The Clippers avoided consecutive losses again. They haven’t lost two straight since late January.
  • Jawun Evans returned from injury, earning nine scoreless minutes.