Paul George has had to assume an astronomical burden for the Clippers thus far this season, the lone star of a group that was built to work with two. That was once again the case as the Clippers faced off against George’s former team, Oklahoma City, with L.A. in search of its second win of the season.
The Clippers labored throughout, just as they did in the previous two games, falling behind by as many as 15 in the first half and 12 in the second. But George carried his club even after a slow start. He finished with 32 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and three steals. In the game-deciding 13-1 stretch that brought the Clippers ahead by three with 36.7 seconds to play, George scored or assisted on 11 straight points. He was the alpha and omega for a team that needed every single one of his 40 minutes as the Clippers rallied to defeat the Thunder 99-94.
The reason the Clippers were in that position was mostly due to a horrific offensive effort. It’s hard to pinpoint what was worst about the Clippers offense in the first half.
A lack of motion? Check. For the most part, the Clippers starters stood around, watching each other work. Their bench counterparts had a lot more activity, but none of it exactly productive as their manic possessions still didn’t lead to efficient scoring.
Turnovers? The Clippers had those, coughing the ball up seven times, including on a couple of occasions when they had a fast-break opportunity of their own.
There was also careless decision-making, whether it was Eric Bledsoe jab-stepping out of a catch-and-shoot three but taking the shot anyway, or Reggie Jackson driving into the lane with no real plan of what to do next.
And then there was the glue that tied the whole half together: absolutely horrific shooting. The Clippers shot 15-of-50 from the field, including 3-of-21 from 3-point range. The non-Nicolas Batum Clippers were 0-of-17 from distance until Reggie Jackson hit a three with 2:08 to play in the half. Some of the misses were good looks that hit every part of the rim before going down; some were inexplicable choices that missed the entirety of the hoop.
At least the defense came through in the opening half. The Thunder don’t provide a ton of offensive firepower, but the Clippers did well to rotate and close off lanes to the rim. They were only outrebounded by four, and actually had one more offensive board despite playing small for nearly ten minutes.
Another bright spot for L.A. was the play of Terance Mann, who came in and provided an instant dose of energy. Even though his shooting was in line with the rest of the Clippers (a.k.a. poor), he converted 4-of-5 2-pointers and led the team with 10 first-half points. As a result, what had once been a 15-point lead was whittled down to four by halftime.
Mann brought the same lift in the second half, immediately attacking the basket off of a close out and earning two free throws on his first possession. Still, a couple of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stepback threes had the Clippers back in a double-digit hole until Luke Kennard and George connected on three straight triples of their own.
It seemed like the Clippers would have too many self-created gaffes to ever get completely back into the game. On one sequence early in the fourth, George blocked Mike Muscala at the rim, springing Kennard ahead in transition, but Kennard and Mann both missed bunnies at the cup. Josh Giddey followed that up with a jumper despite the a miserable offensive possession for the Thunder, extending OKC’s lead to eight.
But they finally found the magic elixir in crunch time, as George got to work and led the Clippers home. He had critical jumpers, an assist, a block, and even just good verticality on Muscala to keep the Thunder off the board and allow his team to charge ahead. On to the next one.