The Clippers starters, as they have in recent weeks, looked disjointed to start the game. They were able to keep pace with the Pelicans, but most of their scores were bailout shots by Gallinari or Harris, not the results of good offense. On the other end, they had trouble staying in front of Jrue Holiday or Julius Randle, who were able to get into the paint with ease. The bench, as it has so often this season, sparked a run, as Beverley and Bradley combined for three bingos in a row on the way to a 13-4 run. The bench’s offense definitely had more movement and life, but the defense continued to struggle.
The second quarter went at much the same tempo as the first. Both teams moved up and down the court, scoring with relative ease. The Clippers were able to stay ahead by dint of their hotter shooting, while the Pelicans hung in because of their offensive rebounding and the Clippers’ turnovers. Towards the end of the quarter, when the Clippers’ starters came back in, the Pelicans were able to gain a slight lead as the Clips stagnated on offense. The Pelicans led 66-63 at halftime, keyed by Anthony Davis’ 15 points in the 2nd quarter.
The Clippers began the third quarter in horrific fashion, letting the Pelicans go on a 7-0 run within the first 90 seconds and forcing a Doc Rivers timeout. Whatever Doc said didn’t help much, as the Clippers continued to look terrible on both ends. They couldn’t move the ball or get any easy looks on offense, while Randle and Davis bullied them mercilessly on defense. Lou and Trez subbing in didn’t help, and the Pelicans lead quickly grew to 20 after a couple Clippers’ turnovers and scores. The game did turn, however, when Pat and Ty returned to the game. Suddenly, the Clippers had life and energy once again, forcing stops and getting out in transition. A 16-2 Clippers run to end the quarter had them right back in it, and they had every bit of momentum entering the final frame.
The 4th quarter picked up right where the 3rd left off, as the Clippers looked like the better, more energetic team. They had the lead down to two, when Doc Rivers took out Lou Williams and bafflingly subbed in Avery Bradley. He was trying to give Lou a breather, but Bradley should have been nowhere near the court in the 4th quarter. The Clippers actually took a brief lead off a Gallo four-point play, but Davis roared right back with a couple buckets, and the Pels never looked back. Down the stretch, all the Pelicans did was run pick and rolls with Holiday and Davis against Bradley and Trez, and they got easy looks nearly every time down. Gallinari and Lou made a last desperate push towards the end of the game, but it never looked like enough, and the Pelicans pulled out the 121-117 victory.
- Starting unit is broken: As I mentioned in the game preview, the Clippers’ starting unit is a complete mess right now, and they were awful again tonight. While they hung in there in the 1st quarter, the process didn’t look good, and it came back to bite them hard in the late 2nd and early 3rd quarters. The unit does not possess enough spacing or ball-handling on the court on offense, and lacks rebounding on defense. A change has to be coming soon, because the Clippers’ starters put the team in a deficit every game, and the bench can’t fight their way out of holes every time. If I had to guess, Pat Beverley will be starting over Shai pretty soon.
- Shai invisible yet again: While Avery Bradley has (rightly) taken a lot of heat for his poor play this season, Shai’s drop-off over the past few weeks has been immense. He just doesn’t look like a threat at all on the offensive end, and his confidence is clearly low right now. Some of this could just be standard rookie fatigue, but I think most of his poor play stems from the starting unit’s malaise. While I think he should be starting, a move to the bench could be good for him. He’s just not making much of an impact right now, and that’s a problem.
- Montrezl stands out: While Ty Wallace and Pat Beverley both played very well off the bench (and either one of them should have closed over Bradley), Montrezl Harrell was superb once again, putting together a 26 point, 10 rebound, 4 assist game on 10-16 shooting. He was a +15 in his 34 minutes, meaning the Clippers got outscored by 19 when he was on the bench. Trez didn’t have much success guarding the larger Randle or Davis either, but the energy and offensive firepower he brings is undeniable, and he was the Clippers’ best player tonight.
- Tobias and Gallo quietly excellent: Neither Gallinari nor Harris had massive games, but both scored 20+ points on very efficient shooting, and didn’t force anything on offense. They were certainly part of the problem on the boards, as they combined for only 10 rebounds, but they hit timely shots all night, and kept the Clippers’ starting unit somewhat afloat in the first half.
- Superstars matter: After getting defeated by Nikola Jokic and Blake Griffin the last two games, the Clippers were undone by a ridiculous 46 point, 15 rebound performance by Anthony Davis tonight. He was unstoppable, willing the Pelicans to victory with endless lay-ins and pull-up jumpers. While the Clippers have built a solid team this season, the past few games are a reminder of why they’re so hell-bent on getting a superstar in free agency this summer.
- Possession battle is costly: Outside of Davis’ magnificence, the reason the Clippers lost is because they got destroyed in the battle of possessions. The Pelicans had 15 offensive rebounds to their 8, and only turned the ball over 6 times to the Clippers 16.