The best decade in Clippers history ended tonight, with a victory in Sacramento that pushed the team to 24-11 on the year.
It’s the right note to end the 2010s on, as this new Clippers core seeks to take the team to new heights in the 2020s.
Tonight’s game was fairly uneventful, as the Clippers took a double-digit lead in the first half and never relinquished it while also never fully blowing the game wide open. The deficit remained between 11 and 19 for the entire second half, and while the Kings’ momentary push to cut it to 11 in the fourth quarter carried with it a potential threat, none materialized as both teams played with a relative lack of urgency for most of the game.
The Clippers’ pedestrian performance tonight was more of what we’ve seen in recent weeks from this squad: inefficient, high-volume performances from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George offset by well-rounded contributions on the supporting cast. Tonight, the Kings’ defense focused heavily on the two superstars, who combined to shoot just 14-46 from the field. On possessions where Leonard and George played patiently, the Clippers’ offense surged: they combined for 16 assists and even ended up with some easy looks for themselves when the defense adjusted to cover open shooters. But far too often, the Clippers’ offense was stagnant and impatient, with their stars taking contested mid-range jumpers early in the shot clock.
If the Clippers want their offense to flow more smoothly, and their stars to score more efficiently, there needs to be less talk of a personnel change at point guard and more talk of adding discipline and structure to the offensive system. Adding a lead guard with more offensive creation ability might help some, but ultimately when so many of the team’s possessions are stagnant early-clock isolations, it won’t matter who the point guard is—because right now, he’s just standing still on the opposite wing. When the Clippers run even basic actions, like pin-down screens or pick-and-rolls, they have the talent to put the defense in tough spots and create open looks.
As far as tonight’s game goes, a couple points worth noting include that Doc Rivers made a rare choice to close the game with Ivica Zubac instead of Montrezl Harrell. Zubac finished with 8 points and 13 rebounds in 23 minutes, and when asked what he liked about Zu’s game tonight to inspire playing him over Harrell, Rivers replied, “I don’t know, I just didn’t like how Trez was playing.” Also, third-string point guard Derrick Walton, Jr. got some extended run tonight with both Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams out, and he had 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist on 4-5 shooting. It’s just the latest impressive performance from Walton, and while he doesn’t seem likely to earn a rotation spot any time soon, he’s certainly emerged as a reliable emergency option and he should continue to see spot minutes ahead of prospects Jerome Robinson and Terance Mann.