The game summary for this one will be short, as this game really had mostly the same tone throughout. The Clippers started off well, getting an early double-digit lead and getting whatever shots they wanted. The starters were effective on defense as well, double-teaming Bradley Beal and forcing other Wizards to create offense (and failing at that). However, while the bench unit was able to score with ease as well, the defense was less sturdy, and the Wizards were able to work their way back into the game. They even took a lead midway through the 2nd quarter before the starters returned and were able to restore order, enabling the Clippers to hold a small lead going into halftime.
Things ran much the same course in the third quarter, as the starters opened another significant lead behind strong defense (Ivica Zubac dominated around the rim) and a Kawhi-led offense. Beal couldn’t going, the rest of the Wizards were helpless, and the Clippers appeared to be in control. Then, the bench came in, and the gap closed again. However, Doc deviated from his previous rotations, playing little-used journeyman Derrick Walton Jr rather than rookie Terrance Mann, and to great effect. Walton’s energy, ball-handling, and steady competency spurred the Clippers, even as they continued to get roasted by Davis Bertans. However, down the stretch, Kawhi was able to score time and again, and Montrezl Harrell tore apart the Wizards’ big man in one on one coverage. The end result was a comfortable-enough Clippers victory, albeit not a pretty one.
Derrick Walton makes his play for minutes: Terrance Mann and Jerome Robinson have largely struggled this season, and certainly did tonight, looking hesitant offensively and making errors on defense. Doc switched things up by playing Derrick Walton over Mann, and the result was drastic. Walton had 7 points, a rebound, and an assist in 12 minutes, and made no real mistakes on the court. He helped with ball-handling, moved well defensively, and spaced the floor by moving without the ball. His minutes were a better two-way stretch than the Clippers have received from Mann or Jerome nearly all season, and there’s nothing that really suggests he can’t keep doing this. His ability to shoot, handle the ball, and do all the little things makes him somewhat like a mini Pat Beverley, and he should continue to see minutes going forward with Shamet and McGruder out.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sizzle: Just like the last Wizards game, the two Clippers’ superstars dominated this contest from start to finish. Kawhi, in particular, looked as good as he has all season, draining threes, getting to the free throw line, and creating shots from midrange. He was also exceptionally active on the glass, pulling down 11 rebounds, and made some nice passes. George played more off the ball, and despite foul trouble, put up a huge stat line of 27 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals. The two moved mostly in symbiosis, and the Wizards just had no answer. It’s the exact type of performance Clippers fans have been waiting for.
JaMychal plays only four minutes: JaMychal Green has been a huge part of the Clippers’ rotation this season, and his return from a tailbone bruise has been eagerly awaited. Unfortunately, he got in foul trouble quickly tonight, and was removed from the game forthwith. He never checked back in, suggesting he might still be hurt. If so, hopefully he gets better soon – the Clippers could greatly use his services tomorrow night when Kawhi sits out with load management.
Clippers starters excel: The Clippers non superstar starters were terrific as well. Pat Beverley had some defensive slips and Ivica Zubac missed a few easy shots, but on the whole, the group fit together quite smoothly. Moe Harkless excelled on Bradley Beal defensively while nailing several threes, Beverley chipped in a few threes of his own, and Zubac was all over the court defensive while pulling in several big offensive rebounds. This is how the Clippers starters should ideally look – a menacing, switch-heavy defense that can create offense in transition and from the sheer dominance of their stars.
The Clippers play again tomorrow against the Indiana Pacers, almost certainly without Kawhi Leonard. Hopefully they will have JaMychal Green back as well, or they will be mighty short-handed against a good team on the road.