The Clippers suffered their first loss of the 2024 season, a gut-punch 120-118 defeat to the Jazz on the road in Salt Lake City.
This game was kind of tough to do a traditional quarter by quarter recap for, and is more interesting on a macro-level anyway. Suffice to say that the Clippers played hard and fought all game long, but several of their weaknesses from last year crept back in throughout the loss – poor defensive rebounding (the Jazz had 17 offensive rebounds), costly turnovers (14), and a stagnant offense. The Clippers trailed for much of the game, as their defense was awful early, but took the lead late in the fourth quarter at various points. Unfortunately, a Jordan Clarkson three gave the Jazz a two-point lead, and the Clippers frittered the last possession away on a poor Kawhi ISO. Russ got the offensive board, but took a tough midrange jumper and missed, and that was the ballgame.
Small Ball Returns: The Jazz, somewhat oddly, only played Walker Kessler 21 minutes in this one despite him looking reasonably effective and not being in foul trouble. The Clippers thus countered with heavy doses of small ball. Ivica Zubac played 19 minutes and Mason Plumlee 12, with the Clippers thus having 17 minutes of Nic Batum or Robert Covington at center. The small-ball lineups varied in effectiveness. When the Clippers went really small with three guards, their offense was terrific with plenty of spacing for drives. However, their rebounding and defense suffered. Their “bigger” small-ball lineups were stronger defensively but stagnated in the halfcourt on offense. I liked the Russ-PG-Kawhi-Nico-RoCo unit, even though their +/- wasn’t great, and would love to see that unit with Bones over Russ.
Russ flipped from Game 1: This game was an odd mirror from Game 1, with some of the standouts from that game playing poorly in this one and vice versa. Russell Westbrook, who was so good against the Blazers, was highly ineffective in this one, scoring 4 points on 2-4 shooting in 37 minutes and dishing just four assists to five turnovers. All of those turnovers came early, but in the second half the ball was in PG and Kawhi’s hands, as they were cooking, and Russ basically just brought the ball up to pass to them and then stand in the corner. His rebounding remained great, and his energy is a constant, but this was one of the bad Russ nights where he cramped spacing and wasn’t doing much else. I would not have played him this much. Zu played a lot less, as mentioned, but was a similar story in dominating against the Blazers and being quiet against the Jazz.
Norm Redemption: Norman Powell was bad in preseason and quiet in Game 1, but was terrific in the 4th quarter, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the final frame to give the Clippers a chance of victory. Importantly, he was decisive, either shooting, driving, or passing quickly instead of dribbling the ball for long stretches. He remains mostly a zero elsewhere, with three rebounds and one assist in 25 minutes, but this is the kind of performance the Clippers need from Norm.
PG Continues to Cook: After an efficient 29-point outing against the Blazers, Paul George had 36 points tonight, largely based on a perfect 15-15 from the line. His outside shot wasn’t falling, but he aggressively attacked the rim with Kessler out and was rewarded. The “on my bully shit” PG is the guy the Clippers need, the true-blue superstar who can get 30+ points while being strong defensively. I just wish he’d had the last shot attempt.
Forward Rotation Adjustments: After playing a 10 man rotation in Game 1, Ty Lue cut back against the Jazz, not playing KJ Martin at all. He also staggered, keeping one of Russ, PG, or Kawhi on the court at all times. This resulted in 37 minutes for Russ and Kawhi and 38 for PG, which is just far too much for those guys this early in the season at this stage in their careers. After barely playing in Game 1, Nic Batum logged 30 in this game with RoCo in foul trouble. Even with Terance out KJ is out of the rotation, which means he’ll be buried upon Terance’s return. As for the forwards, RoCo was fine – though not nearly as good as against the Blazers – but I suspect he will be the guy who gets cut from the rotation when Terance is healthy.