A depleted Clippers squad fell to the East’s best team, 124-108, in their second game in the Crypto.com Arena.
Marcus Morris Sr., in his return from Covid protocols, scored eight points in the first five minutes of the game to put the Clippers up early. Morris was crucial to keeping the Clippers in contention throughout the game, as he finished with 24 points, six assists, and five rebounds. The production of the supporting cast and determination to compete, even while severely shorthanded, provided the first silver lining of the night.
James Harden, who had 14 points and five assists in the first quarter, orchestrated a powerful offense the Nets, however. The Clippers trailed 38-33 going into the second quarter.
Without Paul George and Reggie Jackson, shot creation and playmaking were expected to be question marks. That fear was fully realized tonight, as, at times, the primary offensive burden fell on the shoulders of the Clippers rookies, Keon Johnson and Brandon Boston Jr. The Clippers just could not reliably get into the lane and scramble the Nets defense, which, unfortunately, does happens to be crucial to Ty Lue’s drive and kick offense.
The Clippers’ usually staunch defense was also unable to contain Brooklyn, as Harden and Co. consistently found the right pass and took the right shots en route to 71 points by the first half. Harden presented the defense with what I refer to as the “Jokic dilemma,” in memory of a stretch of playoff basketball that I wish I had the ability to forget. That is, when an opposing star player is too good to guard one on one, but also too good of a passer to double team. Tonight, Harden either cooked his individual defender, or made the right pass to find the open man when a double team left the rest of the defense scrambling. Harden finished the game with an efficient 39 points, 15 assists, and eight rebounds, as well as a pair of steals.
Some hot shooting from Morris Sr. and the Clippers cut the deficit to ten early in the second half, but was unable to break the double-digit barrier. That lead then proceeded to grow back to 21 with 4:30 to go in the third quarter. With 2:!5 to go, the Nets, who were up 100-78, triggered Lawler’s Law.
The more playing time and experience for the rookies, including a pair of 3-pointers from Johnson and an exciting four-point play from Boston, provided the second silver lining of the night. For Johnson, who presented himself as primarily an athletic slasher and defensive stopper in college but who promised himself as an improved shooter during the draft, an improved 3-point shot would go a long ways towards him earning more minutes in Lue’s rotation. In 17 minutes, Johnson posted 15 points, two rebounds, and two assists. And as for Boston, who has emerged as a legitimate rotation player and bonafide draft night steal, the continued offensive development of his game is a wonder for Clippers fans. The currently depleted roster provides an opportunity for these younger players to gain experience and develop further.