The Clippers came into Indiana on the second night of a back-to-back, on the last game of a five-in-seven stretch, at the end of an eight-game road swing. Fatigue was to be expected, if not accepted.
That didn’t make it any easier to stomach defeat, as the Clippers dropped the final game of the Grammy road trip at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, losing 122-116. The team ends the eight-game rodeo 4-4.
Amir Coffey led all scorers with 27 points, but he was followed closely by 26 from rookie Isaiah Jackson, who made his first start of his career. Four centers (three starters) were out in this game — Goga Bitadze, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Ivica Zubac — and the rookie Jackson outplayed the remaining bigs on the Clippers roster. That was the difference in the game.
This was the first time in his Clippers tenure that Zubac had to sit out a regular-season contest due to injury. The Pacers were acutely aware of Zubac’s absence, and despite missing their two starting bigs and another rotation frontcourt player, went right at the paint. Indiana took 23 shot attempts at the rim in the first half, compared to 10 for the Clippers, making 15.
Although fill-in starter Serge Ibaka — and the Clippers perimeter defense as a whole — had difficulty limiting shots at the rim, he did block a couple that came his way. He also showed his utility on the offensive end right away, draining three jumpers and scoring four more points on putbacks.
The defense picked up with the second unit, coinciding with the turn to a zone. Active hands led to deflections, creating points in transition. But the Pacers figured things out when they returned to their starting lineup, necessitating another defensive adjustment in the second half. The Clippers began to blitz Caris LeVert rather than letting him get all the way to the basket and collapse the defense.
That tweak combined with some three-point magic from Amir Coffey (three triples in the third quarter) led the Clippers to an eight-point lead, and it looked like they might be pulling away against an Indiana team with a shallow bench. However, the Pacers immediately reeled off a 10-0 run, bolstered by the speed of their second unit.
Ty Lue put the bench unit of Eric Bledsoe, Luke Kennard, Nicolas Batum, and Isaiah Hartenstein in to try to stabilize the Clippers after that run. Batum hit a three to regain the lead by the end of the third, and one more to start the fourth quarter, but things started to unravel at that point.
The Clippers simply couldn’t get any stops, and the culprit was Duane Washington Jr., nephew of former NBA player Derek Fisher. Washington is a league-average three-point shooter but heated up for four threes in the final quarter, giving the Pacers a lead they would not relinquish. Bledsoe did his best to keep the Clippers afloat with some drives to the rim, but he needed his teammates to cash in with jumpers on his kickouts, and they didn’t oblige.
Reggie Jackson attempted a late run, but it was too little, too late. Overall, still a successful trip for the Clippers, but the end might leave a sorry taste.