The Clippers started off the game looking collectively hungover. They had very little ball movement on offense, and seemed a step slow defensively. When they were able to get good lucks, mostly at the basket, they botched them. Missed layups and turnovers led to the Nets getting out in transition and draining open threes. The Clippers were able to hang around with free throws, but could not seem to shake out of their stupor. They were fortunate to be only down seven after the first quarter.
Somehow, the start of the 2nd quarter was even worse. The Clippers lacked spacing, timing, and effort, and were getting beat to every loose ball. They were unable to score any field goals, and the Nets just kept piling on at the other end, quickly turning a small lead into a monstrous 19 point advantage, 46-27. Then, Doc brought back the starters, and the energy finally picked up. Pat Beverley forced a couple turnovers, Shai’s length bothered shots, and Gallo and Trez were able to get out in transition and score. Beverley picked up his 3rd foul, but Garrett Temple continued applying pressure and defense at the point of attack, and the Clippers moved relentlessly going the other way. The Shai to Shamet connection clicked back into operation as well, as the two rookies linked up for a couple of threes, and the Clippers were able to take a five point lead at halftime through a 33-9 run.
The Clippers seemed to take their momentum into the 3rd quarter, looking as energetic and feisty as ever. Gallo continued to cook, while Zubac protected the rim from the drives of the Nets’ guards. Meanwhile, the Clippers hit a couple threes, extending their lead to 11. Kenny Atkinson, seeing the game slipping away, switched his defense to a zone. The move worked. The Clippers missed threes and turned the ball over. On the other end, D’Angelo Russell cooked, scoring shots from all over the court, and getting the Nets back into the game. While the Nets had a small five point lead, the Clippers came back, and the game was tied 87-87 going into the 4th.
The Clippers started the 4th with Shai in with the bench unit, and the move paid dividends. Shai and Temple hounded the Nets on defense, forcing steals and misses, while Trez patrolled the paint and had several sweet blocks. The Clippers were able to use those stops to get out on the break, and forced the Nets into several fouls. The Nets looked fatigued, and with the Clippers up 14, it seemed like the game was in hand. Once again, however, the Clippers got careless, and some turnovers along with shots by Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie got the Nets back to a tie game. The Clippers seemed baffled by the zone defense, but were able to push through it, and a corner three by Shai seemed to be the dagger, putting them up 10 with just over a minute to play. The Nets refused to quit, and their fight along with some idiocy by the Clippers (5 second violation, fouling on layups) allowed the Nets to go on a 10-0 run in 53 seconds to tie the game. With all the momentum going their way, the Nets seemed assured of an overtime, but it was not to be. Lou Williams buried a game-winning three from 28 feet out as time expired, and the Clippers hung on to a 119-116 victory.
A ridiculous game: This was truly one of the more baffling, hard to explain games I’ve watched in five years of covering the NBA. Both sides went on at least three or four massive runs throughout the game, and momentum never seemed to carry beyond a five minute span. There was the Nets run in the early 2nd quarter to open up a 19 point lead, then the countering Clippers run to give them a lead heading into halftime. That momentum carried into the 3rd quarter, but the Nets responded with a run of their own to take the lead back in the late 3rd. The Clippers went on another run in the late 3rd to early 4th, followed by a Nets run in the middle of the 4th, another Clippers run in the late 4th, and finally the Nets 10-0 burst in the waning minute of the contest. What an odd, peculiar game, that was at once riveting and infuriating.
Zone fools Clippers again: The Clippers lost badly to the Heat when they ran a zone on the Clippers early in the season, and almost lost this one to the zone as well. The Nets started running it in the mid-3rd quarter when the Clippers looked like they were about to open up a big lead, and it largely contained them for the rest of the game. There were brief flashes where the Clippers would whip the ball around to find open shooters, or catch the Nets off-balance and penetrate the lane, but most of the time they held onto the ball too long. They were generally indecisive, and that’s the one thing they can’t do against a zone. I don’t know how likely it is they see it the rest of the season – they’re probably too good shooting a team for other squads to run it out. But they definitely need more practice on it.
Second unit struggles: I wrote 9 days ago about the struggle of finding a spot in the rotation for Wilson Chandler when he returned from injury. I understand he’s working his way back from an injury and trying to get accustomed to a new team and teammates, but the first two games of him in the “real” rotation have not been pretty. The lineup with Temple-Chandler-Green at 2-4 just doesn’t have enough ball-handling to relieve Lou, and is a bit slow on defense. The Nets strangled them on offense tonight, and absolutely murdered them in transition going the other way. Chandler just isn’t a small forward at this point in his career, and the rest of the Clippers’ lineup lacks the tools to make up for him. In a vacuum, he might be a better player than Ty Wallace, but Wallace’s defense and ball-handling are more important to the Clips second unit than Chandler’s shooting. Doc Rivers didn’t play Chandler in the 2nd half, putting Shai back in with the second unit, which is perhaps an even better solution than just sticking with Ty.
Shai’s first double-double: Shai played 36 minutes tonight, the most of any player on the Clippers, and deserved every minute. Single game plus/minus is notoriously wonky, but he was a +18 in his time on the court – the Clippers were -15 in the 12 minutes he was off. Shai also had his first double-double with 14 points and 10 assists, and nailed three of his five shots from deep. He looks more confident than ever on the offensive end, penetrating and whipping passes all over the court. On defense, his length bothered both Spencer Dinwiddie (2-16) and Caris LeVert (6-15 greatly), and he’s looking more and more like a defensive player the Clippers can count on late in games. His development has been amazing to watch.
Montrezl steps up: Montrezl Harrell has had an inconsistent March, mixing great games with forgettable ones. Tonight was one of his best performances of the season. He had 20 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes, and added in a steal and block for good measure. The scoring is usually there for Trez, but it was the rebounding and defense that stood out tonight, as was great defending the rim against the Nets drives, and held his own against bigger players in Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis. There’s never any quit in Trez, and his ability to play hard for 34 minutes is pretty incredible.
Magical Lou: There’s not much more to say about Sweet Lou Williams. He didn’t even have a great game, and ended up with 25 points on 16 shots. The game-winner was the first of his career (though I’m sure he’s had other shots that effectively won games, they just didn’t happen as the clock expired), and it was truly epic, one of his signature shots drifting left from 28 feet. He’s been the Clippers’ closer all season, and he came through huge tonight when it mattered. Give him the 6th Man of the Year award.