The L.A. Clippers had gone 24 games without losing two games in a row, the only team in the NBA to make it this far without dropping consecutive contests. Unfortunately, that came to an end against the surging Sacramento Kings, who came into Los Angeles and beat the Clippers 113-110 behind De’Aaron Fox’s 36 points.
The Clippers once again were shorthanded Sunday, playing their second straight game without the starting backcourt of Patrick Beverley and Paul George. And once again, they were tasked with defending a standout lead guard in Fox, whose speed and shiftiness in getting into the paint presented a stiff challenge, as Ty Lue noted pregame.
Keeping the entire Kings team out of the lane proved to be difficult, especially to start. Sacramento scored all 22 of its first-quarter points in the paint, though the Clippers did well to deny any threes or free throws to emerge with a 2-point lead after the quarter. Luke Kennard once again got off to fast start, leading LA with six points. Marcus Morris Sr. added five, and Terance Mann had one of his best shifts of the season, showing aggression on offense while attempting to keep pace with Fox on the other end.
Fantastic finish by Terance Mann. pic.twitter.com/RMGatiUTRL— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) February 7, 2021
Even though the Clippers didn’t turn the ball over — only four giveaways in the first half — the Kings started to get out in the open court in the second quarter, scoring nine fast-break points. Despite Lou Williams starting to cook with eight points, Sacramento found more of a rhythm, specifically in the form of Buddy Hield as the Kings took a 3-point lead into halftime.
In the two teams’ first two meetings, the Clippers owned the third quarters, outscoring Sacramento by a combined total of 71-35 over those 24 minutes. The Clippers ended up winning this period, but only by four, as the Kings were more disciplined in handling the ball. Defensively, LA was still effective against most non-Fox players, and Serge Ibaka had a particularly nasty block on Marvin Bagley III.
Serge Ibaka's block leads to a Kawhi Leonard layup. pic.twitter.com/DgO1UuvPda— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) February 7, 2021
Ivica Zubac had a great game as well, showing out against both bigger and smaller Sacramento centers. He continues to get fourth-quarter minutes, more so than last year, and was an absolute force in the paint against the Kings. Zubac finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds while making all four of his free throws. Zubac was so good that the Williams/Zubac pick-and-roll was carrying the Clippers offense in the fourth quarter even while Kawhi Leonard was on the floor.
Unfortunately, without their starting guards, the Clippers had no defensive answers for Fox. Leonard has size but couldn’t keep up with Fox’s lateral quickness. Fox got into the paint relentlessly and even hit two threes in the final period to retake the lead for the Kings at 103-101 with 4:09 to play.
The Clippers never were ahead after that point. They tied the game a couple of times, but Fox always had an answer. Williams and Nicolas Batum each had chances for game-tying threes to send the game into overtime on the Clippers second-to-last offensive possession, but they missed both, allowing the Kings to escape with a win.
At this point, the team’s major cause for concern isn’t their play, but the status of their starting backcourt. Hopefully, George and Beverley come back soon, because their absences are being felt in a meaningful way.