The Clippers dropped their fourth game in a row in embarrassing fashion, falling behind by as many as 32 points in a rout to the Mavericks in Dallas.
The Clippers immediately came out with better energy in this one than they’d had in previous games. More importantly, they had a focus on offense, which was to feed Kawhi, who scored early and often (12 points in the first) from all over the court. The Clippers also made a point to get out and run, wit one particularly nice pass from Kawhi getting an open catch-and-shoot three for Harden. Ty Lue adjusted the rotations, bringing in Bones early and then Terance while sitting Russ and PG (who was virtually invisible early). This unit excelled, getting the Clippers up 12 at 31-19. However, Kawhi and Harden and Zu checked out, and the lead nearly immediately vanished, with a Kyrie run getting the score to 33-30 Clippers after one.
Paul George checked in for Bones to start the 2nd alongside Russ, Norm, Mann, and PJ, but it didn’t matter. The Clippers could not buy a bucket, whether through bricks (Tucker and Russ both airballed wide open corner threes) or turnovers, nor could they guard Kyrie or Luka. Suddenly, te lead was double digit. Kawhi and Harden and ZU finally came back in, but the damage was done (PJ was a ridiculous -20 in 6 minutes). The Clippers remained unfocused offensively, with Kawhi barely involved, and George was forced to check out with three fouls. Ty Lue kept subbing guys in and out to find something, anything, but the offense remained moribund and the defense porous. The second quarter more or less continued in that fashion until the very end, with the Mavs outscoring the Clippers 47-18 in the period, and on a ridiculous 58-20 run.
The Clippers started the 3rd quarter small with Terance Mann in place of Ivica Zubac, in an attempt to play a quicker lineup that could switch onto Luka and Kyrie and run hard blitzes at Luka to get the ball out of his hands. This lineup did finally, finally get the Clippers going on offense a bit, as Russ and Kawhi rumbled to the basket a number of time, but their defene did not improve, with Luka torching whoever was in front of him. At the 6:42 mark, with the Clippers down 99-68, Zu checked back in for Mann, and Bones came in for Russ a minute later. This lineup also scored ok, but could not get stops, and Ty Lue finally pulled the plug with the Clippers down 27 in the late 3rd. Amir Coffey, Kobe Brown, and Moussa Diabate checked in alongside Mann and Bones, and garbage time commenced.
The Positives: This game was awful. Somehow even worse than the Nets game. But I will say that the first 10 minutes of the game were good. I think that taking out Russ early from the starting unit for Bones is good, in that it adds more shooting to the starters and allows Russ to cook with the bench (more on that in a bit). Taking PG out early for Mann keeps the Clippers defense strong and again, puts PG with Russ on the bench to add some defense and size to a miniscule reserve unit. I like that. Harden and Kawhi make sense as a pairing, as they play slowly and methodically and either can run pick and roll with the other. Then Russ and PG have their chemistry they can go to with the reserves. The Clippers were up 31-19 largely on the basis of that Bones-Harden-Mann-Kawhi-Zu unit.
The Reserve Frontcourt: This was the issue. The game was lost in that 7-8 minute stretch with the reserves in, with the Russ-Norm-Mann-PG-PJ unit. All of those guys have their own strengths, but that’s just a tiny, tiny squad. As mentioned above, Tucker was a -20 in 6 minutes, with his only contributions being a rebound, two fouls, and a bricked corner three. He was good against the Nets, but his lack of offensive production or rim protection makes him a situational player at best – and right now he’s the only reserve frontcourt player the Clippers have that they trust. Kobe Brown is young and doesn’t help with rim protection, but he’d probably offer more than Tucker. Moussa Diabate is a fantastic offensive rebounder but that’s his only real NBA skill right now and that doesn’t help. This unit needs a major upgrade in the frontcourt while Mason Plumlee recovers.
The Norm Powell Issue: It’s far too early to make sweeping judgments based on the James Harden era. but as soon as that trade was made, Norm Powell’s fit on this roster became a question mark. He’s a terrific scorer who offers a combo of downhill scoring and three-point shooting that this team could theoretically use. But he’s also a player who works a lot with the ball in his hands, and with Russ, Harden, PG, and Kawhi, there’s just no room for Norm to handle. He’s also a poor defender and an awful passer, and you’d like to surround your stars with plus defenders and ball-movers. Who knows what Norm’s value is on the market due to his deal and limitations, but moving him for a reserve forward/big wing makes a ton of sense. He was a -35 in 11 minutes, which is nearly impossible to do, with zero points on 0-1 shooting and two turnovers.
Young Guys Play Hard: Yes, it was garbage time, but I was very happy with how the Bones-Amir-Mann-Kobe-Moussa lineup played. They were sloppy at times, and allowed a bunch of offensive rebounds, but they worked hard out there on both ends and cut the lead all the way down to 14 in the mid-4th – enough to get LUka Doncic and other Mavs’ starters back into the game. Moussa had 10 rebounds, 7 offensive. Mann had 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. And Bones Hyland had 17 points on 5-9 shooting with 6-6 from the line, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists. It’s tough to take too much from garbage time, but they moved the ball well and hustled. It was nice to see.
PG Invisible: After his hot start to the season, Paul George has been terrible in the Harden era. He was 3-12 in this one, and honestly, I’m most surprised he got 12 shots up. He’s faded into the background all too easily, and that can’t happen.