While Paul George insisted Thursday’s game for the LA Clippers against the Washington Wizards was a “must-win” heading into the NBA All-Star break, the result did not live up to that standard, as the Clippers fell 117-119 at Capital One Arena.
George was set to start this game, but reportedly experienced dizziness in pre-game warmups and was pulled for the night. That, combined with Kawhi Leonard in foul trouble for most of the game that substantially limited his minutes, meant the Clippers put in a scrappy but inconsistent performance and they couldn’t keep up with the likes of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook for 48 minutes. This, in spite of LA leading by 16 points at one point.
Ty Lue started Reggie Jackson in George’s place, alongside Leonard, Patrick Beverley, Nicolas Batum and Serge Ibaka. Marcus Morris Sr. also missed the game with concussion-related symptoms.
The Clippers got off to a quick lead, but Leonard picked up two fouls in the opening minutes and had to hit the bench unexpectedly early. No surprise, Washington then surged and took the lead with neither of LA’s stars on the court.
The 1st quarter was remarkably sloppy for the Clippers, but credit to them for keeping the game close in the opening stanza, the Wizards leading 25-22.
Luke Kennard got some action early in the game, the need for bodies giving the guard a chance to crack the Clippers rotation once more.
Leonard returned to the game to start the 2nd quarter and provided an immediate boost for the Clippers. And after a poor 1st quarter, the shots really started falling for the Clippers, with Leonard, Kennard, Terance Mann and Beverley all hitting impressive shots in the 2nd.
LA went up by 16 at one point in the quarter, but entered the locker room at halftime leading 61-54, a pretty comfortable margin after a stellar quarter for the team. Leonard had 14 points at the break, followed by the unlikely duo of Beverley and Kennard, who each had 11 points through two quarters.
Turns out the halftime break was bad, because the Clippers were back in their 1st quarter form in the 3rd quarter, shooting a putrid 17% past the midway point of the quarter.
Although they went ice-cold, the good news was that LA remained close, with the teams trading leads in the 3rd quarter. Leonard picked up two fouls and had to take an early seat again, but credit to the Clips for battling to finish the 3rd quarter tied 87-87.
The Clippers stepped it up again in the 4th quarter, taking a narrow lead and holding onto it, with the Wizards lurking and waiting for another cold snap.
And it came, with Moritz Wagner hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer for Washington with 3:15 to go, and the Wizards pushing ahead to get a six-point lead with a little over a minute to play.
With LA pushing for their final rally, it looked like the game was out of reach but Leonard burying a transition 3-pointer to make it a one-point game with 14.8 seconds to play kept hope very much alive. The teams swapped free throws down the stretch, but Rui Hachimura missed his final free throw, the Wizards got the rebound, and dribbled out the game to take it.
The Clippers, along with the rest of the league, get a week off for the All-Star Game, and they’ll be back in action next Thursday, when they host the Golden State Warriors to open the second half of the 2020-21 NBA season. Here’s hoping the non-All Stars on the team get some much-needed rest ahead of the second mad dash of a wild season.