The Los Angeles Clippers star duo Kawhi Leonard and Paul George came up against the Boston Celtics Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but despite a cold perimeter shooting night from the latter two, the Eastern Conference champions came out on top 116-110.
Ranking dead last in the NBA for second quarter net rating, the Clippers suffered once again in the second frame but got themselves back into it in the third to set up a close finish. However, they never managed to find the right lineup to close this one out.
Here are the three big takeaways…
Luke Kennard didn’t attempt a single field goal or free throw in this one. The Celtics may have one of the best defenses in the league and smothered the Duke alum’s attempts to get open, but it still speaks to a failure on the Clippers’ part that they couldn’t get him a single shot in this one.
Tonight was the first time Luke Kennard has ever played more than 6 minutes and not attempted a field goal. He played 17:23 this evening. It's the 12th time this season a player has played at least 17 minutes and not attempted a field goal. P.J. Tucker has done it 3 times.— (@FlyByKnite) December 30, 2022
Fans have been pining all season to draw up more plays for Luke, while Tyronn Lue has insisted that his guard has to be more aggressive. This display may require both to have a look at what they can do to ensure Kennard can prevent another barren night on the offensive side of the ball.
The crazy thing is, despite not taking a single shot, Luke was one of just two Clippers to finish with a positive plus-minus…
Zubac Or Die
The other was Ivica Zubac who finished with a +10 in his near 30 minutes on the court, clearly a result of a phantom restriction given his usage during the back-to-back against the Detroit Pistons and the Toronto Raptors. It was yet another display that showed the front office needs to make a move to get the big man some help.
Zubac has been an iron man for the Clippers in terms of his availability, but they also need to make sure they are looking after him and not becoming solely reliant on him to give them some size. So far this season they have been, while the coaching staff have shown a hesitance to go to two-way guys Moses Brown or Moussa Diabate in big games.
The lack of size killed the team late on, as the Celtics and Brown in particular were able to bully their way into the paint to ice this game…
We can file this one as another head-scratching display for Coach Lue’s tinkering with the matchups. While it’s good to get the bad lineups out of our system now, it would also be nice to see a little more game recognition in moments where wins have been there for the taking and the team hasn’t executed in the absence of their strongest lineups.
Ty's MO in Cleveland was that he would drive you crazy in the regular season and then pull the right strings in the playoffs. We haven't really had to deal with that due to availability issues in his first couple seasons. He is full Tinker right now.— Joseph Raya-Ward (@JosephRayaWard) December 30, 2022
Given the depth of this roster, having just eight guys see more than 10 minutes feels like an oversight on somebody’s part. With Robert Covington another ‘DNP - coach’s decision’, and Nicolas Batum and Terance Mann struggling to find any rhythm in their minimal minutes in this one, there is surely another move that the franchise can make to secure that final puzzle piece.
Time and the faith of the vast majority of fans is on the side of Ty and his team, but it hurts not to lay down a marker when we’re within punching distance of a team as good as the Celtics.