The first quarter was an entirely unremarkable affair, notable only for how poor the Clippers’ interior defense was. Trae Young marched into the paint for layup after layup, and when the Clippers collapsed, he got wide open threes for his beg men, especially John Collins. The Clippers’ offense was scoring too, but not as proficiently, and the Hawks quickly took a nice lead. The bench played stauncher defense, but the offense dropped off, and the Hawks led 32-25 at the end of the quarter.
The second quarter went somewhat better for the Clips. While Trae continued to get to the basket with ease, Montrezl Harrell put in a clinic on the other end, dominating the paint and throwing down several highlight jams. However, the Hawks came right back, and extended the lead back to double digits. Harrell coming out seemed to be a bad sign, but Gortat played magnificently, getting several offensive rebounds and finishing nicely around the basket. One of his offensive boards led to a Jerome Robinson three right before the half, and the Clippers seemed to have all the momentum heading into the break, trailing only 63-61.
The start of the 3rd quarter was the only really exciting part of the game, as it saw a back-and-forth duel between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Young. The two rookies dazzled with drives to the hoop and spectacular passes, promising years of fun rivalry ahead. Unfortunately, the Clippers’ offense stalled as they went away from Shai, and the Hawks slowly pulled ahead. An ice cold Lou Williams (started 0-11) did not help matters, and a surge of putbacks by Alex Len had the Hawks up double digits once again.
The fourth quarter provided very little hope for the Clippers. Lou Williams finally heated up, hitting several shots in a row, but the Clippers’ defense did not step up with him, and whenever they did get stops, offensive rebounds meant more time off the clock and more chances for Hawks’ baskets. The Clippers fought, and they fought hard, to get back into the game, and closed the lead to five or six points several times. But it never felt like they were going to pull it out, even though the Hawks missed what seemed like 10 wide open threes in a row. In the end, the Clippers got lucky with two missed free throws, but failed to box out, and the game ended 123-118 without the Clippers getting a chance to really threaten the Hawks at all.
- Inexcusable: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals on 5-7 shooting in just 24 minutes, and was, with all due respect to Pat Beverley, the Clippers best guard in this game. He was aggressive, he made tons of plays for others, and his defense was certainly no worse than anyone else’s on the team. His driving and finishing were on full display, and he really looked like he was on his way to a huge night. Then… he didn’t play in the 4th quarter. While I’ve understood Doc Rivers’ hesitancy to play Shai in crunch time at points this season, tonight was not one of those times. Not only would it have been the smart basketball decision, but it would have been a great sign of confidence in Shai to reward him on a night he played excellent basketball. The Clippers certainly weren’t getting any stops, so why was Avery Bradley in there? Or if Bradley was in, why was Lou, who was mostly dreadful all night outside of a brief five-minute stretch, playing? Not playing Shai was just a miss on all accounts, and a dreadful (if predictable) decision.
- Poor rebounding costs Clippers: The Hawks had 15 offensive rebounds tonight, but it seemed like more than that. Any time the Clippers got a stop, the Hawks were right there to get another shot at the hoop. While Montrezl Harrell is a wonderful player, having a center who only gets 4 rebounds in 32 minutes is not ideal, and is the biggest reason he can’t be a starting player on a consistent basis. Pat Beverley led the team in rebounding once again with 10, and while his fight and energy to get boards is just incredible to watch, having a 6’1 guard lead your team in rebounding semi-consistently is a bad sign.
- Lou cold again: One night after going 2-16 from the field against the Kings, Lou was 4-17 tonight, and 1-5 from three. He also had 5 turnovers, mostly of the costly live-ball variety, and just generally looked off all night. Several people thought they saw Lou moving gingerly, and if his hamstring injury is indeed still bothering him, he should not be playing through it. Not only is his play costing the Clippers, but it also makes the likelihood of a more severe injury far higher.
- Tobias great again: Tobias Harris had 30 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists on 11-18 shooting, and is making a real push for the All Star game with Gallinari out. He’s the Clippers most consistent player, and while his shot isn’t always falling, his presence on the boards is welcome on a team that doesn’t rebound.
- Bad, bad loss: The Hawks are feisty, and their combination of strong pick and roll play (Trae) with a bouncy big man (John Collins) was always going to be a problem for the Clips. But they’re still a team that was 18 games under .500 coming into this game, and the Clippers were playing at home. This is the kind of game that playoff teams win, and that the Clippers, in particular, needed to get under their belts with LeBron James nearing a return and a rough road trip coming up. While no one game usually decides the playoff race (unless it really comes down to a single contest), this is the kind of loss that costs teams a shot at the postseason.