The Clippers started off this game about as poorly as possible. They made foolish decisions defensively, didn’t move the ball on offense, missed the few open shots they did get, and just generally looked lethargic. In the blink of an eye, they were down 17-4. As the bench came in, the offense slowly stabilized, mostly because of Lou and Trez, but the defense did not. Boban Marjanovic was even brought in as Doc tried to find a workable lineup, but the Clippers still trailed 40-22 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter didn’t go all that much better. The Clippers defense tightened up significantly, but with both Boban and Trez in the game, they had no spacing, and couldn’t get anything going offensively. Meanwhile, their free throw woes continued, leaving further points on the board. Tobias Harris in particular looked awful, and left the game briefly with what was later diagnosed as a shoulder strain (he came back at the very end of the half). Doc continued to search for answers, turning to a four guard lineup (Beverley-Bradley-Shai-Lou) alongside Trez, which made some headway before Shai picked up his 3rd foul. Ty Wallace came back in for a brief stretch, as did Boban, but the Clippers could not make any headway, and trailed 65-47 at half. Amazingly, Shai was the only Clippers’ starter to make a field goal in the first half, with Beverley also chipping in a single point on a free throw.
The third quarter started much way the second ended: with the Clippers playing *decent* basketball, but not able to chip into the Pistons’ lead due to the Pistons’ hot shooting. Doc started with Boban and Lou over Gortat and Beverley, and while Lou continued to play well, Boban’s lack of mobility cost the Clippers defensively. When Trez came in for Boban the game began to shift a bit, as spacing and energy improved. Tobias Harris finally got a few shots to drop, and a run at the end of the quarter cut the Pistons’ lead to 11.
The fourth quarter was one of the best performances the Clippers have ever put on the court. The Clippers continued their strong play from the end of the 3rd, going on a quick 7-0 run with some help from Mike Scott. Despite a couple baskets from Reggie Jackson, the Clippers were able to tie the game, then take the lead on a Lou Williams layup. From there, it was all over, as Lou scored time and again, while the Pistons grew desperate on offense, hoisting up contested shots and losing their ball movement. In the end, it wasn’t even close, and the Clippers won 111-101. The win from a 25 point deficit was the largest in Clippers’ franchise regular season history, making this one for the record books.
- Stunning 4th quarter defense: I can’t explain enough how unbelievable that 4th quarter was for the Clippers. While they showed some life at the end of the 3rd, they still didn’t look like world beaters. In the 4th, the Clippers were absolutely all over the court, scrambling on defense to double Blake and then recover to shooters. They got loose balls, didn’t allow offensive rebounds, and made the Pistons life on offense hell. The Pistons only scored 14 in the 4th, and five of them came when the game was basically decided. The lineup that did most of the damage was a Shai-Beverley-Lou-Scott-Trez combination, which notably did not include defensive stopper Avery Bradley. The Clippers were quick, had length, and just defended the hell out of the Pistons. I’m babbling, but it’s hard to put into words. From the 3:45 mark of the 3rd quarter on, the Clippers went on a 51-18 run. The 18 can be explained by the defense, while the 51 was primarily due to one man….
- Sweet, sweet Lou Williams: Lou Williams had 39 points and 9 assists, in this one, with 26 of those points coming in the 2nd half. Doc Rivers started him in the 3rd quarter, and that one adjustment made all the difference, as the Clippers needed him on the court as much as possible. He got wherever he wanted to against the Pistons defense, manipulating the pick and rolls this way and that so he could carve into the lane. He made his leaning jumpers, drained several cold-blooded threes, and made tough shots around the basket. When the Pistons doubled him, Lou didn’t panic, but made smart passes to get the rest of the team good looks to score against an outmanned defense. He’s the most important player on the Clippers, and it’s not even close. Their offense is potent when he’s on the court, even when he’s not scoring well. When he is… they can be volcanic. Lou has to be the frontrunner for 6th man of the year again, and is one of the best offensive players to ever wear a Clippers’ uniform.
- Shai spectacular: The numbers aren’t incredible, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had his best performance of the season today. He had 14 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and a block, and played every minute of the 4th. His defense ignited the Clippers’ offense, as his long arms bothered the Pistons greatly. He closed out on shooters, got in dribbler’s spaces, and generally was in the right place at the right time. On offense, he made smart plays, moving the ball well and finding open players in transition off stops. When the Clippers needed buckets, he got them. This was especially true in the 1st half, where his scoring helped keep them even somewhat afloat. This type of performance, on the road, is just unbelievable for a rookie point guard. Shai is special, and he needs to play more minutes.
- Doc experiments: As mentioned above, Doc experimented wildly with lineups in this game, sometimes to the team’s detriment, but ultimately finding success. He played Motley after leaving him on the bench for several games (though Motley was brutal in his couple of minutes), played Boban big minutes, including starting the 3rd quarter, and even went to a four-guard lineup. In the 4th, he rode the lineup that brought him to victory all the way, never bringing back Avery Bradley for Shai, or Tobias Harris for Mike Scott. The combination of Lou-Shai-Beverley needs to play more, as it features three guys who can all handle the ball and create for others, and has enough shooting to space the floor for Lou-Trez pick and rolls. Hopefully Doc’s willingness to try new things does not end after this game.
- Tobias Harris injured: Tobias struggled mightily in this one, scoring only seven points on 3-12 shooting from the field. The reason for his play was revealed in the 2nd quarter, when he was diagnosed with a right shoulder sprain. Frankly, he looked so uncomfortable I wouldn’t have played him at all in the 3rd quarter, but he was able to score all of his points in the period, and his three towards the end of the quarter was huge. He’s a tough guy, but if he can’t shoot correctly with his shoulder banged up, he shouldn’t play tomorrow in Toronto.
- Marcin, Boban struggle: Marcin Gortat had a miserably bad stretch to start the game, missing several easy looks, failing to rotate on defense, and just generally dragging the team down. He’s been mostly solid for the past couple months, but games like this still happen far too regularly. While Boban had 10 points and 10 rebounds in his minutes, he missed four of his six free throws, and his inability to play outside the paint on defense led to several easy Pistons’ threes. If the Clippers really want to make a playoff run, it would probably be best to get someone who could get all of their minutes. But really, the solution is just to play Montrezl Harrell and Danilo Gallinari at center most of the time.
The Clippers have less than 24 hours to recover before their game in Toronto tomorrow, where they will be without Danilo Gallinari and Luc Mbah a Moute, and possibly without Tobias Harris. It will be a tough game, but their ability to win this one made up for it.