The Clippers’ new best win of the season just dropped, as they rallied from a 22-point deficit to defeat the Warriors in front of a hyped up Clippers’ home crowd.
The Clippers were lethargic to start, quickly falling down 12-2. They then got a quick 6-0 run keyed by a couple of Harden-Zu pick and roll layups, only to give up a 6-0 run based on two Draymond threes. The seesaw swung back with a PG 5-0 run, getting it to 18-13. The bench rotated in differently, with Russ and Kobe for Harden and Mann, and then Theis for Zu. From there, things fell apart a bit, mostly because of Steph Curry, who got the lead back up to double digits. Norm Powell finally came in late for Brown, but the Clippers could not get going and trailed 33-22 after one.
The Clippers rolled out a new bench unit of Russ, Harden, Norm, Kobe, and Zu, and while this unit was able to get going a bi on offense, their defense remained bad. PG returned for Brown, but the Warriors kept chugging along, and by the middle of the quarter had stretched the lead to 17. With PG and Zu in foul trouble, the Clippers went with Norm in place of PG and Theis instead of Zu, and this lineup with the regular starters was able to trim the lead all the way down to 11 with a minute or so to go. From there, disaster, as Steph hit two threes and a midranger, the Clips couldn’t answer, and the Warriors held a 19-point lead going into the half.
The Clippers adjusted their lineup at halftime, with Norm Powell replacing Terance Mann. This immediately paid dividends, as the Clippers possessed premium spacing that opened up their offense. Both Paul George and James Harden scored early and often, so even though the Clippers’ defense wasn’t great, they were able to get the lead down to 14. With around 7 minutes to go in the period, PG picked up his 4th foul on a moving screen, and Zu got his 4th 10 seconds later on a Draymond flop. Instead of pulling them, Ty Lue stuck with his guys, and the Clippers responded with much improved defense that got them out in transition. Harden was the maestro, with 15 points and several assists in the period, getting the Warriors’ lead all the way down to 7 when he checked out with 3 minutes to go. The Clippers got it down to 2 after a Norm three and Theis layup, but a Klay 5-0 run pushed the Warriors’ lead back to 7 entering the final frame.
A Russ, Mann, PG, Kobe, Theis lineup to start the period didn’t play well, but was able to hold up well enough until Harden checked back for Kobe at the 9:20 mark. A Russ brick on an open three followed by a Klay three forced a Clippers timeout with the Clips down 10 at the 8:53 mark. Kawhi came in for Russ, with the original starters on the court except Theis for Zu. The Clippers’ offense purred the entire rest of the period, with open shots created time and time again through creation by Harden and Kawhi. The Clippers missed just enough open shots and the Warriors made just enough to keep the Warriors ahead by a hair.
With 1:41 to go and the Clips down 1, Theis blocked a Podziemski layup, and the refs ruled Clippers ball. The Warriors challenged, got the ball back, and Podz scored on a beautiful inbounds play. This seemed backbreaking, and appeared to be all the more so after a Kawhi turnover led to an idiotic Paul George clear path foul in transition. Fortunately, while the Warriors made the free throws, the didn’t make the shot, and Harden scored a layup to keep the lead at three. He then fouled Moody after an awful defensive possession, but Moody only made a single free throw. With 38 seconds left and the Clippers down 4, the Clips ran a beautiful out of bounds play that got Kawhi a clean layup. Down two, the Clippers put Russ into the game alongside Norm, PG, Kawhi, and Mann for defense. Mann played excellent defense on Curry, forced a miss, Russ got the rebound, and kicked ahead to PG, who razzled-and-dazzled with the ball to get a stepback 3 over Klay. Splash. The Clippers kept the same group for the final defensive possession, with Kawhi taking Curry and forcing him to pass to Draymond for a corner 3, which he missed. Clippers win.
Turning Point?: The Clippers have had an up-and-down season, to say the least. But this win, coming back from 22 down against a team that has haunted the Clippers in the past, could be a turning point. The Clippers showed mental toughness in this one to hang through the Warriors’ early hot shooting, keep playing defense, and keep running their offense. They are now 9-10 and don’t play again until Wednesday. Their starting unit has played well, for the most part. Guys should hopefully be starting to settle into roles and rotations. It’s now go-time to start pushing up the standings.
Feed Harden-Zu Pick and Roll: The Clippers’ offense has looked at its best the past 10 games with James Harden running the show. More specifically, his pick and roll with Ivica Zubac in the new starting lineup (or Norm instead of Mann) with shooters all over looks very dangerous. It usually results in a easy look inside for Zu, a downhill drive from Harden, or kick outs to open shooters with Harden and Zu making correct reads. Yes, having Paul George and Kawhi Leonard play a lot less on ball seems like a waste of their talents. But that’s exactly what they’ve been pushing for all these years with their calls for a traditional point guard, and now they have a really good one. More Harden-Zu pick and roll, please.
Ty Pushes the Right Buttons: I’ve been on hard on Ty Lue as anyone over the past year plus. But he coached a great second half today. He had some great out of bounds plays, with that late one in the 4th being a particular highlight. But most importantly, his rotations were on point. He went for the win, giving Paul George 38 minutes, Kawhi 39, and Harden 35. He stuck with Theis in the 4th quarter even though Zu had been awesome earlier in the game. He took Russ out for most of the 4th quarter, going with Mann or Norm instead, and kept Harden and Russ apart as much as possible. And in the final couple possessions, he inserted Russ back in for Harden to add rebounding and prevent the Warriors from attacking Harden. Hopefully Ty and the coaching staff are now starting to see what combinations do and don’t work, and are adjusting accordingly.