The Clippers seemingly deployed two squads tonight: one taut, active, brutally effective, and the other somewhat lax and unfocused. Fortunately, the first squad hung around for so long and in such dominating fashion that the other squad couldn’t do anything to squander it.
The Clippers rolled the Magic, 122-95, and there was little fault to find with the team in any of the minutes that mattered. For two and a half quarters, it was a thoroughly dominating performance, and it was a mostly comfortable cool-down after. When your only complaint is that a 27-point victory wasn’t a 40-point victory, and when your only real complaint is that Kawhi Leonard had to participate in a fourth quarter he’d be better served having sat, you don’t really have many complaints at all.
This recap will be a story, but it will also be a list of superlatives. That’s how the game revealed itself. Outside of a few unfocused minutes, it was one positive moment followed by another.
These are among the many good things we saw tonight:
- Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi is almost always good, but tonight he was particularly good. Sensational, even, for long stretches. He scored 10 points in his first five minutes. He scored 32 in 30 minutes overall. He was efficient. He was energetic. And according to Clippers PR, he was the first Clipper to score 30-plus in four straight since Elton Brand 14 years ago.
- Patrick Beverley. Like Kawhi, Beverley is also almost always good, and like Kawhi, tonight he was particularly good. There has been some discussion, more so in national circles than local ones, that the Clippers still need an infusion of playmaking. Beverley did his best to silence those calls for a night, and he did so as he does everything else, with unrelenting energy. Beverley’s six first-quarter assists were a career high for any quarter, and his ability to control the offense let Kawhi and others orbit more freely around him. Speaking of the others . . .
- Landry Shamet. Unlike Kawhi and Beverley, Shamet has mostly not been good. Tonight was a return to better form. The hot-shooting perpetual motion man found his shot and confidence early, and while his box score line looks modest (13 points, 5-13 FG, 3-8 3PT), just know that Shamet’s contributions propelled the Clipper offense to an extra level.
- Shooting. Actually, for a little while, this was good for both teams. The Clippers and Magic combined to make their first 12 field goal attempts in a wild opening scoring bonanza. Unfortunately for the visitors, only the Clippers found a way to keep it up. They shot better than 50% from both the field and from deep in the first half and finished with 14 made three-pointers.
- Passing. The Clippers recorded 16 assists in the first half, 29 for the game, and despite a careless run around the turn of the third and fourth quarters, turned it over only nine times. Their ball movement was smart and plentiful. Their enthusiasm for sharing was reminiscent of last year’s more egalitarian offenses. The Magic entered this game with a top-five defense in efficiency, top-one since they lost long-armed forward Jonathan Isaac to injury, yet the Clippers cut them open with little resistance.
- Defense. Orlando’s leading scorer Evan Fournier missed last night’s game against the Lakers with a bruised quad, but he returned tonight only to receive a bruised ego. The Clippers harassed him into a team-worst minus-23 rating, with the versatile scoring guard managing just six field goals on 15 tries and no threes. Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon were the only Magic to get unlocked, scoring 20 and 22 respectively with tidy shooting stats (16-24 FG and 7-9 3PT combined). The rest of the Magic labored, including Markelle Fultz, who followed up his second career triple-double with a pedestrian 11 points and five assists.
- The big men. Ivica Zubac struggled to chase Vucevic around the perimeter, but he was a towering menace at the rim, forcing Fultz in particular into difficult in-between floaters. His screen-and-go chemistry with Kawhi and others was a major factor. (#ScreenAssist.) Although, perhaps even more comforting was the play of the bench bigs, Montrezl Harrell and JaMychal Green. Harrell scored 21 and Green recorded an 11-point, 13-rebound double-double, each in 23 minutes. Most impressively, their long-armed defense helped the Clippers’ reserve unit smash the opposing bench with a 16-0 run in the second quarter to put this game beyond a doubt. (To be fair to the Magic, they were without a backup point guard. Both D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams sat with injuries. Augustin may be out for an extended period.)
The Clippers now embark upon a six-game road trip, with difficult stops in Dallas, Miami, and the other-colored floor at STAPLES Center. But they leave with fewer concerns then were held even a week ago. For now, the Clippers are back in rhythm.
- Maurice Harkless left in the first half with a sore back and didn’t return. Patrick Patterson started the second half in his place.
- Clippers PR also announced that Lou Williams passed Quentin Richardson for sixth-place in franchise history with his 365th made three-pointer. Both Richardson and Darius Miles were in attendance.