The Clippers are as good as any team in the league through their top eight, but beyond that, their depth can be shaky. Without Paul George against the Spurs due to a sprained ankle, the Clippers didn’t have enough firepower and lost their third game of the season, 116-113.
Kawhi Leonard did his level best to carry the Clippers as the lone superstar. He played 37 minutes, scored 30 points on 22 shots, and led the team with 10 assists. He also had the third-lowest defensive rating on the Clippers, highlighted by two steals and a block. When Leonard was on the floor, the Clippers were fine. The problem came when he sat.
Ty Lue has dutifully staggered his stars throughout the season, leaving one of Leonard or George on the court at all times. With George unavailable, the second unit defense was significantly lacking, as only Ivica Zubac is a positive defensive player off the bench. The Clippers were also small on the wing without George and Marcus Morris Sr., who has yet to play this season due to the right knee soreness.
That allowed the Spurs to feast on the Leonard-less units, specifically in transition. San Antonio had 26 fast-break points compared to eight for the Clippers, and several of them were transition 3-pointers. The Spurs cashed in 20 threes from beyond the arc, including eight from Patty Mills, who helped change the tide of the game in the first half. He scored nine straight points to end the first quarter, part of a 26-3 run that allowed the Spurs to take control.
The Clippers fought back, as they have throughout this season (with one obvious exception). They took the lead in the first quarter after being down nine early and then tied the game at 95 after trailing by as much as 24. It was just too much to ask them to come all the way back with a depleted lineup, especially when they were constantly digging themselves in holes.
There were several positive elements for the Clippers throughout. They had 29 assists on 43 field goals, including some beautiful passing sequences.
Clippers get pretty unselfish here and find Ibaka for the bucket. pic.twitter.com/OEz73JV5im— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) January 6, 2021
Patrick Beverley was also outstanding, scoring 20 points and adding eight rebounds and eight assists. His energy was key to the team’s comeback, and he had a key offensive rebound in the final period to keep the rally going.
Ultimately, the Clippers had two chances to take the lead or tie in the final minute and couldn’t make either 3-pointer. It shouldn’t have come down to those two last-minute shots, but that was the position the Clippers put themselves in with their slow start. Hopefully, they bring better energy next game.