Mired in a three-game losing streak, including Friday’s ugly loss to the hapless Lakers at home, the Clippers (47-33) have slid to eighth place in the Western Conference and are plummeting in the standings at precisely the wrong time.
It’s not entirely fair to judge their recent dip by Sunday alone. The two-time defending champion Warriors (56-24) were seeking to clinch the top seed in the West, wearing their “We Believe” era uniforms, in front of their Oracle faithful for the final time in the regular season before moving to a state-of-the-art arena in downtown San Francisco next season. The Clippers were also without Danilo Gallinari (ankle) and Patrick Beverley (hip).
In their stead, star reserves Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams started. It did not go as hoped.
The usually potent duo combined to go 9-for-24 from the field and managed just 24 combined points. While all five Clippers starters scored in double figures, no one on the roster tallied more than 17.
In the early going, the Clippers hung around and eventually took a four-point, second-quarter lead with a spurt that included five 3-pointers from Landry Shamet and some dazzling mid-range play from fellow rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The problem, of course, was that the Warriors countered with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Curry scored 27 points in 30 minutes, including 21 points in the first half, and Durant went for 16 points with just one missed field goal.
After the game vacillated between 10 and 12 point deficits for the Clippers in the early stages of the second half, Golden State blew it open with a 25-6 run over the final 6:15 of the third quarter.
The problem isn’t necessarily this loss or the recent slide without Beverley, one of their emotional leaders and top perimeter pitbull. No, the biggest concern right now is the play of Harrell. Their high-flying big man has not grabbed double-digit rebounds since Mar. 19 and has a field goal percentage 9 points below his season average during their three losses this month. On Sunday, he uncharacteristically fumbled a couple passes, was whistled for a charge, and missed multiple shots he normally makes.
Entering the playoffs, the Clippers will assuredly be underdogs, but without their most recognizable underdog playing his best, their chances of pulling an upset may be nonexistent.
The loss dropped the Clippers from sixth to eighth after both the Spurs and Thunder won Sunday afternoon. Oklahoma City plays Houston Tuesday and Milwaukee Wednesday, while the Spurs close out the season against the Mavericks Wednesday. If everyone wins out, the Thunder would finish sixth. With San Antonio owning the tiebreaker over the Clippers, the Spurs would finish No. 7 while the Clippers would finish No. 8 setting up a dreaded first round matchup with Golden State.
THEY GOT NEXT
The Clippers close out the regular season on Wednesday against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Depending on what happens in Oklahoma City’s game against Houston Tuesday, the Clippers finale could be meaningless or the difference between a first round date with the Warriors or anyone else.