The Clippers got the Sunday matinee showcase for the first time this season, and their performance was befitting of the moment.
LA and Milwaukee traded blows all afternoon, as the superstars all had stretches of brilliance on both ends of the floor. Ultimately, Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated the final four minutes of the game, and that was enough for the Bucks to emerge with a 105-100 victory.
In the first half, however, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both started out hot. They used the pick-and-roll to get to their preferred spots in the midrange, combining for 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting. They also made the right reads out of double teams to kick the ball back out and swing to open 3-pointers. The problem early was that the supporting players only made 2-of-13 threes, diminishing the playmaking advantage that Leonard and George were creating.
Meanwhile, the Bucks had less difficulty. Their non-stars made five threes, allowing Milwaukee to take a five-point lead into halftime. The Bucks also had a 12-2 advantage in fast-break points, finding some leaks in the Clippers transition defense even if they couldn’t score in the half court.
In the third quarter, the Clippers found a third scorer in Serge Ibaka. He stopped trying to roll to the basket and instead embraced his destiny as a popper. He made five straightaway shots, all from midrange and deeper, finishing with 12 points and six rebounds in the period. That offensive outlet, combined with five made threes from the role players, helped the Clippers take control of the game. They finished the quarter on a 21-7 run.
The Clippers maintained that advantage through most of the final period and were up 100-96 with four minutes to play when the Bucks called timeout. LA didn’t score again the rest of the way. The Clippers usually go small to help their defense, but they were powerless at the hands of Antetokounmpo, who scored seven in a row — including making all three of his free throws — to put Milwaukee up 103-100 with ten seconds left.
Leonard had one look at a 3-pointer on the next possession to tie the game, but it was a long three, and his shot fell short. It looked like the initial Clippers action broke down when George juggled the inbounds pass. It was disappointing that was the best look LA could get up despite their bevy of offensive threats.
Still, the Clippers hung with the Bucks on their home court for the bulk of the night, and were one cold stretch away from a marquee victory.