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PG-less Clippers fall flat early, can’t rally late in 124-115 loss

A fourth-quarter rally led by the team’s youth salvaged what was otherwise a very disappointing night.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers are in a rut, there’s no denying that. But that didn’t make stomaching their loss to the Kings any easier. The Clippers came out flat and never really seemed in the game, ultimately losing 124-115.

The team had six players in double figures, but four of them were off the bench as the starting lineup (essentially the veterans) massively underperformed. The rookies on both ends were the stars of show; Brandon Boston Jr. had 13 points and Keon Johnson closed the game admirably, but 2021 lottery pick Davion Mitchell was better for Sacramento, tallying 20 points and two steals and making life miserable for whoever tried to dribble the ball around him.

It felt like the Clippers stepped back into a time machine when they took the court against the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night, with both teams starting two traditional bigs. The Clippers lineup in particular, with Marcus Morris Sr. at small forward, felt especially anachronistic, throwing spacing out the window.

That configuration required Morris to do some heavy lifting to generate offense, as the only nominal perimeter player who could enter the ball into the paint, though that was achieved by posting up himself. Morris made a couple of nice passes out of the post but couldn’t find the touch on his own jumper, going 1-of-7 in the first half.

It was really hard for the Clippers to find spacing in their half court offense, and the benefits afforded by playing two bigs on defense weren’t immediately apparent. The Kings took 18 shots in the paint and made 13 of them, using floaters to evade LA’s rim protection. Sacramento also still got six offensive rebounds despite the twin towers, scoring six second-chance points. And then the Kings broke loose for nine first-half 3-pointers.

The lead stretched all the way to 20 before a flurry of points from Boston helped the Clippers pull to within 10 at the half. Boston was seemingly the only Clipper who wasn’t tentative, who wasn’t second-guessing himself on offense. When he got an open shot, Boston took it, and he made 5-of-9 while also busting out a sweet wraparound pass underneath the basket that resulted in an Ivica Zubac dunk.

If it seemed like the Clippers were carrying momentum into halftime, those hopes were dashed swiftly in the third quarter. The Kings outscored the Clippers starters by nine, who looked hapless. There was no rhythm on offense, no plan on defense, and a parade of transition points by a young and athletic Sacramento team.

Fortunately, the Clippers finally showed some spirit in the fourth quarter, even if it was a lineup of players who mostly suit up for Agua Caliente. The group of Johnson, Jay Scrubb, Boston, Luke Kennard, and Isaiah Hartenstein actually showed some verve. Hartenstein ran the offense at the top of the key, there was action going towards the basket, and the Clippers shaved what was once a 25-point deficit down to eight.

There wasn’t quite enough time to complete the comeback, but it was good to see the Clippers play with some life. Ty Lue was finally engaged too, actively diagramming plays for Johnson during stoppages. The bench trio of Kennard, Terance Mann, and Hartenstein looked like its early-season iteration. At least there was something to hang on to in what mostly a very rough night.