The Clippers had another game where they didn’t play great for most of the contest, but had too much talent for the lowly Pistons to handle and got the victory in the end.
The Clippers started off the game about as poorly as possible. They only had one turnover early, but all of their players were misfiring on offense, and their defense was porous, allowing the Pistons to get whatever they wanted. The result was an early, shocking 20-6 Pistons lead before the bench started coming in at the 6 minute mark. The Clippers then went on an 11-6 run in the next 2:30, pulling back to within 10 points, with an and-one and three by Kawhi driving the attack. The Clippers continued to push, and cut the lead down to 33-27 after one with Kawhi’s scoring, Russell Westbrook’s passing, and much tighter defense.
The Clippers bench unit with Harden in for Kawhi played ok, but the Pistons continued to score too easily. Then, at the 9:46 mark, the Clippers went small by substituting PG for Theis. The Clippers were able to cut into the lead a little bit with this unit, getting it down to 48-44 with 5:21 to go, when Plumlee and Kawhi were re-inserted. Kawhi went right back to his dominating ways, this time getting at least a smidgeon of help from his co-stars, and by the time halftime rolled around, the Clippers had a 65-60 lead.
The third quarter continued Iargely the same fashion, with both teams scoring with ease, and the Clippers slowly growing their lead. Their advantage got up to nine points at times, but the Pistons fought to stay attached and the Clippers couldn’t pull away. At the 3:54 mark, a Cade midranger cut the Clippers’ lead all the way down to one, at 89-88. From there, the Clippers retook control, going on a 12-2 run capped by a buzzer-beating three by Norm to end the quarter and put the Clippers up 101-90 going into the fourth.
Early in the 4th it seemed that the Clippers might run away with it early, as they had a lead as large as 18 at one point and seemed to be pushing for a blowout. However, the Pistons once again fought back, getting the lead back down to nine by the 7:53 mark. A minute and a half later, with the Clippers’ lead at 11, Kawhi and Mason came back, and a quick 5-0 spur put the Clippers up 16 with 5:57 to go. The Pistons battled, but Paul George went on a 7-0 run to grow the lead to 20 with under four minutes to go, and the rest of the game was garbage time.
Kawhi, Unstoppable: With Joel Embiid out for an extended period with injury, the MVP race is wide open, and honestly, Kawhi Leonard should be getting more buzz than he’s currently receiving. Yes, the Pistons are terrible, but Kawhi’s 33 points on 12-17 shooting, with 6-8 from three, is just becoming commonplace. He was a team-leading +18 in his 32 minutes, and could have easily gotten to 40 points if the game was slower. There just aren’t any basketball players in the world playing better than Kawhi Leonard right now. He’s an All-Star, will make All-NBA, and at this rate should absolutely be top-5 on the MVP ballot, at least. What a player.
Russ Reversing the Clock: Russell Westbrook has been great in his role as an energy guard off the bench this year. He’s provided defense, rebounding, and playmaking for the Clippers’ bench, and has been a swing factor in multiple games. However, his scoring has been largely the same as it has been in recent years – namely, inefficient. His 52.3% True Shooting is just really bad in today’s NBA, and drags down what is otherwise a highly useful player. Tonight, however, the old midrange jumper, the one that used to be so automatic for Russ, was falling. He drained two of his three shots from deep. He even made several tough finishes around the rim. At the end of the day, Russ had 23 points on 13 shots, and chipped in 9 assists to two turnovers. Again, the Pistons are terrible, but this was still a terrific Russ game, and I’m happy he hit the incredible 25,000 point career mark in a huge game for him and a Clippers’ win.
PG Looks Healthy: After a dismal 1-5 start, Paul George went 7-11 the rest of the way, and more or less single-handedly ended the game in the mid-4th quarter. He finished with 18 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals, and while he maybe looked a little less bursty than usual, he more or less resembled a healthy Paul George. Hopefully he can stay healthy the last couple weeks until the All-Star break, where he will get some much deserved rest. Another guy who could use rest? James Harden, who clearly looks tired and slower than he did just a few weeks ago.