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Clippers Nearly Give It Back Before Toppling Pacers, 110-99

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Paul George sparkled in a game that came a little too close to disaster.

LA Clippers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

You can be forgiven if you forgot this was a Paul George return game. It wasn’t Indiana to whom the Clippers sent a veritable treasure chest for the rights to the star swingman. And if Indianapolis’s collective memories of their former star had faded during his two-year tenure in Oklahoma City, Paul George was ready to reanimate them. In style.

Without fellow superstar Kawhi Leonard (and a few others), Paul George submitted an analytics dream, scoring 36 points and fattening up from three (7-16) and the free throw line (9-11) to lead the Clippers over the Pacers, 110-99. George followed up first-half fireworks with a show-stopping third quarter, nearly breaking open a game the Clippers had no right to run away with.

The Clippers, playing on a road back-to-back and missing key role players Landry Shamet, JaMychal Green, and Rodney McGruder — oh, and also KAWHI LEONARD — looked like the the fresher, more complete squad for three quarters. Their tired legs may finally have caught them in a cold-shooting final frame that nearly undid the impressive work done before.

The Pacers had recorded few highlights before a fourth-quarter run eroded a Clippers lead that had eclipsed 20. Indiana’s starters were punished, their plus-minus numbers the product of nightmares. Only Domantas Sabonis, who played heavily with his team’s reserves, emerged untarnished, scoring 18 and gathering 22 rebounds in brawny fashion.

It was during those bench minutes that the Pacers finally ate, taking advantage of the Clippers’ weakened bench, in the second and then particularly in the fourth. Indiana reserve Doug McDermott rang up 17 on five threes to give the Clippers (and this writer) a sufficient late-game scare.

With the Pacers still missing star Victor Oladipo, who has yet to play this season while rehabilitating last season’s knee surgery, Malcolm Brogdon returned after a one-game absence to lead his squad with 20 points. However, Maurice Harkless and Patrick Beverley took turns harassing the emerging guard, holding him to just two assists. (He entered the night averaging 7.7 per game, a top-10 league mark.)

The Clippers’ defense also employed a lot of zone — like, a LOT of zone — and in so doing largely kept the midrange shooting Pacers from getting to their favored spots. Indiana’s throwback-ish squad couldn’t muster sufficient three-point shooting to open the floor for most of the game, converting just 10 of their 35 deep chances and misfiring for a 35% overall shooting mark.

Indiana also faced a major deterrent in Ivica Zubac and his imposing frame. Zubac gave one of his best performances of the season, stonewalling the Pacer attack and battling opposing bigs Sabonis and Myles Turner. His box score statistics (13 and 8 in 21 minutes) look solid, but know that he was very much more. That the Pacers made their fourth-quarter comeback while Doc Rivers kept his young big man on the bench was not exactly coincidental.

The Clippers also received a massive contribution from Montrezl Harrell, who overcame relative inefficiency with characteristic relentlessness. Harrell teamed with Paul George to goose the Clippers after a low-scoring start in which the team was somehow both stagnant and sloppy. Harrell scored 26 points on 12-for-22 shooting, benefiting once again from his compatibility with Lou Williams, even on a rare off-night from the scoring guard. (Like, OFF-NIGHT.) Lou recorded six assists but never found his wayward shot, scoring just six points on a ghastly 2-of-19 field goal mark.

It’s only a little surprising that in a quality victory over an Indiana team lauded for its productive young big men that Patrick Beverley would show much larger than his listed 6’1” height. Doc’s little pest was the key to a rarely seen four-guard lineup and rode an unending reserve of energy to a center’s double-double, 11 points and 12 rebounds (to go with five assists) in 39 minutes. (Yes, 39 minutes!)

Fourth quarter near-meltdown not withstanding, it was a comfortable win and a notable performance from a Clippers squad just a few days healed from their Milwaukee beatdown. This road trip is now half-done, with another poached star’s return awaiting. Kawhi and the Clippers head to Toronto on Wednesday, and he now has Paul George’s shining example to match.

Notables:

  • Patrick Patterson started in Kawhi’s absence but only recorded 15 minutes, mostly giving way to smaller lineups until Doc floored the much-awaited Harrell-Zubac combo in the third.
  • Mo Harkless put in yeoman’s work, again flexing his defensive chops and using his long-armed zeal to muster 14 rebounds, five on the offensive glass.
  • Derrick Walton Jr. earned 19 minutes to follow-up his breakout performance in Washington. His ability to execute a full-court press further highlighted the Clippers’ defensive experimentations tonight.