The Clippers depth has been tested this season. Only Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, and Ivica Zubac played in every every game; veterans Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka, and Marcus Morris Sr. have all missed at least 12 contests; and oh yeah, Kawhi Leonard still hasn’t played a minute.
It’s been difficult for the Clippers to have enough juice to weather those absences — just look at their offensive rating for the season — but slowly but surely, the younger role players have figured out what they need to do to compensate for everyone else’s absences. Luke Kennard keeps hunting, hitting a career-high seven threes against Orlando. Brandon Boston Jr. brings energy whenever he is on the court, singlehandedly keeping the offense afloat against the Celtics. Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein have been solid in the middle all season, and then the veteran Jackson has helped bring the Clippers home down the stretch.
This version of the Clippers isn’t close to what they’ll look like at full strength, but we’re starting to at least see the outlines of what each individual is capable of. That’s why they’re back to stringing together wins and rising in the power rankings even as the injuries mount.
This week: 12th | Last week: 16th
Paul George missed two games last week due to an elbow injury, but the Clippers were still able to put together a three-game winning streak due to big games from Brandon Boston Jr. and Reggie Jackson. Prior to George’s absence, the Clippers’ star swingman was averaging 3.1 made 3-pointers per game. That is on pace to break Eric Piatkowski’s franchise record (738) sometime next season in what will be George’s fourth campaign with the Clippers.
This week: 11th | Last week: 13th
The Clippers’ reserves have been terrific all season, ranking as the fifth-best bench in the league. But there’s big a difference between winning the minutes when you star is off the floor and winning the games when the star isn’t available at all. The Clippers lost to the Kings in their first game of the season without Paul George, but they beat the Celtics and Magic without him last week, with six guys averaging double-figures over the two games.
Rookie Brandon Boston Jr. scored 27 points against Boston, driving through Marcus Smart, pulling up for early-clock 3s and going behind the back in transition. Luke Kennard shot 11-for-17 from beyond the arc over the two wins, and now has the second best mark (45.1%) among 115 players with at least 100 3-point attempts. And Reggie Jackson came up huge down the stretch on Saturday, scoring or creating each of the Clippers’ final 13 points, and capping it all with the game-winning jumper. George (11-for-21) and Jackson (13-for-25) are two of eight players who have shot better than 50% on at least 20 clutch shots this season.
The Clippers are now 10-4 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, and 5-8 otherwise. (Only five teams have fewer non-clutch wins.) After they host the first-place Suns on Monday, they’ll have played 19 of their 28 games at home. The schedule will start to get road-heavy with their visit to Utah on Wednesday.
This week: 11th | Last week: 17th
The do-the-Clippers-need-a-point-guard conversation is an annual tradition at this point, though it’s a perfectly legitimate debate with Kawhi Leonard out of the lineup. Paul George’s rising turnovers seem to be pretty directly correlated to his increased playmaking load, and despite his immense growth, Reggie Jackson can benefit from more time as a scoring spark rather than a consistent initiator. Avoiding the play-in is no guarantee if Los Angeles doesn’t augment its roster before Leonard’s return.
This week: 12th | Last week: 15th
1st Q: -6.6 net rating | Ranked 24th
2nd Q: +12.8 net rating | Ranked 2nd
3rd Q: +0.7 net rating | Ranked 14th
4th Q: -0.9 net rating | Ranked 15th
Clutch: +25.2 net rating | Ranked 4th (tied) | 14 games (10-4)
Takeaway: The LA Clippers have done a poor job of starting out games, often starting slow and just kind of feeling out what the night might bring from their opponent. However, we’re seeing Ty Lue and the Clippers make a lot of adjustments after that point, and they’ve utilized their bench and supporting cast quite well despite not having as much depth as they’d like. Where the Clippers really shine this season is their end-of-game execution. They’ve been one of the best clutch teams in the league. Even when Paul George has been out, they’ve known that Reggie Jackson will drive the car and everybody falls in line with what their job is. Defense continues to fuel this team, and they continue to win games.