The Clippers, seemingly left for dead against a hot-shooting Nets team, had clawed their way back from a 15-point deficit, tying the game for the first time in the second half with 28.6 seconds to play.
Kyrie Irving went for the win on the next possession and was bailed out when former Clipper DeAndre Jordan followed up his missed three to put the Nets back up two. On the ensuing play, Kawhi Leonard had a clear lane to the basket with James Harden powerless to stop him — but then the refs whistled an offensive foul. That was all she wrote for the Clippers in a 112-108 loss.
Kawhi was called for an offensive foul on Harden: pic.twitter.com/3TyukEZSzH— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 22, 2021
The sub-optimal finish marred an otherwise entertaining game. Even though the Clippers weren’t at their best for long stretches of the game, they still had enough moments of brilliance to stay within contact, mostly from Leonard and Paul George on a night when the bench didn’t give a whole lot of help.
Leonard finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds, and George added 34 points and seven assists, but he sat the final two minutes so as not to overextend himself after recently returning from a toe injury that cost him six games. Only other Clipper scored in double figures, while Brooklyn had five.
In a matchup of two contenders with a lot of individual history, it looked like we would get some fireworks early. A few minutes into the first quarter, Patrick Beverley committed a fast-break foul on his former teammate James Harden, and Harden took exception. He pushed Beverley in the ensuing scuffle and received no penalty as Beverley stayed in Harden’s ear during the entirety of the dead ball.
But when play resumed, there was no more extracurricular activity between the two teams. Instead, the Nets methodically went about their business, and the Clippers could have used a little more of that fire.
Leonard started out strong with 14 points in the first quarter, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range. The Clippers and Nets traded runs and LA took a two-point lead into the second quarter. The problem with the Clippers’ hot shooting was that they failed to move the ball and get into the paint against Brooklyn’s switching defense. They only had 10 shots at the rim in the first half — and only six free throws — while the Nets attempted 20 field goals at the basket. Combined with their nine turnovers, and it really didn’t matter that the Clippers had made nine threes; the difference in the paint was too much to overcome, resulting in a seven-point halftime deficit.
The defense was problematic too. The Clippers couldn’t stay attacked to the Nets off of screens and constantly left themselves exposed to cuts by ball-watching. Their transition defense was a problem, particularly against Bruce Brown, but the offense wasn’t doing the defense any favors with all the turnovers.
The second quarter was when the game started to get away from the Clippers. At one point, Brooklyn went on a 22-8 run as Harden proved unstoppable. He was getting to his floater while also setting DeAndre Jordan up for lobs. Harden didn’t even hit any threes during that stretch — he just set up his teammates — and it got so bad that Ty Lue had to put his starters back in with seven minutes left in the quarter.
The Clippers scored at a decent rate in the third, but once again had no resistance for Harden and Irving as the Nets extended their lead to 10. LA at least stopped the lobs to Jordan, but the two guards kept making jumpers.
The Nets went up 15 on the Clippers early in the fourth quarter, and there was a moment when it seemed they had closed the door on the home team. But George woke up. He drove the basket with abandon, ran some two-man game with Ivica Zubac, and when everything else failed, his jumper was still pretty good. He scored or assisted on LA’s next 16 points as they pulled back into the game.
The Clippers also went small, and their switching defense started to make the Nets uncomfortable. It was almost enough to bring LA all the way back, but the team came up one play short.