The game started much like other Clippers’ games have started recently. That is to say, badly. Their offense looked congealed, with little movement, even less penetration, and lots of clanked shots. The Clippers’ defense was better, but the Mavs hit tough shots, and had a small lead for much of the quarter. However, things changed when the Clippers’ bench came in. The offense got loose, the defense tightened up, and the Clippers all of a sudden had some life and energy.
The second quarter began much the same way, with the Clippers looking phenomenal on offense. However, their defense proved slightly more porous, with Luka and Dwight Powell carving them up on the inside. Montrezl Harrell went on a rampage in the paint with several monstrous dunks, but the Clippers’ lead failed to grow. The rest of the quarter was close, with every Clippers’ push getting met by a Mavs bucket. The Clippers overall looked like the better team, but led only 63-57 at the half.
The third quarter opened even worse than the first, with the Mavs going on a 9-2 run to regain the lead. The next few minutes were a seesaw affair, with both teams hitting threes and not getting any stops. Shamet finally untracked for a couple, and Beverley also hit one, while Hardaway and Doncic stepped up for the Mavs. Once again, the Clippers got a bit of an edge when the bench came in, with the Lou-Trez-Green trio looking particularly spry. Still, the Clippers could not push an advantage, and led only 91-88 entering the 4th.
The bench unit just played fantastic basketball in the 4th quarter. Lou Williams ran the offense, with only brief turns from Temple and Ty as ball-handlers. Lou found Green for threes, Trez for dunks, and hit his own shots (albeit at a poor rate), never looking in a rush or flustered. Meanwhile, Ty, Temple, and Green swarmed the Mavs defensively, forcing misses and corralling loose balls. The Clippers still couldn’t pull away, largely because their outside shots weren’t falling, but appeared to be steadily in control. Doc Rivers closed with a rock solid Lou-Pat-Temple-Gallo-Trez lineup, which got just enough stops and baskets to pull out the win. The game, an entertaining, fun affair, was capped by Doc Rivers calling for timeout with 9.3 seconds left and getting all of Staples Center to applaud Dirk Nowitzki in his last game against the Clippers at Staples. Classy move by Doc to close out a very nice win.
Lou-Trez combo is dominant: Not much more can be said about the Lou Williams-Montrezl Harrell duo. They’re on pace for (by far) the highest scoring average of two bench teammates in NBA history, and that honestly might undersell their impact. Lou’s shot was off tonight, but he turned into a playmaker extraordinaire, hitting Trez right in his sweet spot time and again in the pick and roll for thunderous dunks. Any time the Clippers needed a score, they’d return to the Lou-Trez pick and roll, and get one. It’s a deadly combination, it’s fun, and tonight the Mavs just had no answers. Trez set his career high with 32 points, and added 5 assists of his own – his playmaking is truly improving by the day. Lou had yet another double-double with 21 points and 10 assists, and ran the Clippers’ offense down the stretch with aplomb. They’re a special combination, and Clippers’ fans should enjoy the show while it lasts.
Rest of bench stands out: While Lou and Trez will get much of the praise for the Clippers’ win (and deservedly so), the rest of the bench unit was fantastic as well. Ty Wallace played only 13 minutes, but played hard and well on defense, gave Lou breathers as the Clippers’ ballhandler and offensive initiator, and made several nice passes. Garrett Temple scored a mere four points, but his length and quickness on defense made him indispensable down the stretch, and Doc was quite right to stick with him to close the game. He was incredibly effective tonight, in the kind of role the Clippers envisioned for Luc Mbah a Moute this season. Finally, JaMychal Green continues his absolutely stellar play. He hit three of his six threes, already demonstrating a chemistry with Lou Williams in the pick and pop. He attacked the glass hard, snagging eight rebounds in just 17 minutes. And, most importantly, he played great defense, trapping hard against Luka and forcing several steals. All three of these guys were crucial to the win, and fit in perfectly next to Lou and Trez.
Starting lineup continues to slide: There’s no two ways about it: the Clippers’ current starting lineup doesn’t work. There’s not quite enough ball-handling or playmaking, not enough pure shot creation, and below average perimeter defense. Shamet’s shooting is incredibly valuable, but his defense is very, very bad, and when his shot isn’t falling, he doesn’t offer much on the court. Shai is completely out of sorts right now. He has no confidence in his shot, and has been reduced once more to mostly a spot-up role in the offense, which is not helping in getting him untracked. His defense continues to be good, which makes him not a total minus on the court, but the Clippers need to find a way to get him some easy looks again. Meanwhile, Zubac is playing “ok”, but he’s just not offering enough of a presence on either end. I think Montrezl Harrell should probably start over Zu, as it would both help the Clippers offensively and give them a bit more switchability on the perimeter, if even less rebounding and rim protection.
Pat Beverley is awesome: While the starting unit as a whole is struggling, Pat Beverley is playing the best basketball of his career right now. He had 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists, and his defense, energy, and hustle were as off-the-charts as always. His three-point shot was falling tonight, making him all the more deadly, but Pat could have had a great game even without scoring as much. What he brings to the Clippers is invaluable, and they have to try to re-sign him this summer.
Standings watch: We have a playoff tracker for this purpose, but today went about as well as could be hoped for the Clippers. The Spurs, Kings, and Lakers all lost, cementing the Clippers in 7th and giving them a nice four-game cushion on the Lakers and Wolves (who are very much in the playoff picture, obviously). Friday night’s game against the Kings looms very large for the Clippers. A win there wouldn’t cement a playoff spot, not even close, but would go a long way towards giving more breathing room against the Kings, who look like the most threatening team right now.