Neither team could get much going to start, with solid ball movement on both sides but not a lot of made shots. At the 7 minute mark, the score was just 6-6. From then on, however, the shots started to fall, and they fell in a hurry. For the Clippers, the main man was James Harden, who resembled something close to his peak self, mixing in 3s, drives to the rim, and great passes for teammates to generate easy offense. The Clippers’ bench trickled in, but their offense did not relent, and they led 35-27 after one, led by Harden’s 17 points.
The Clippers continued with a now-similar bench rotation, with Paul George staggering in – but with a major difference, as Kobe Brown subbed in the late 1st instead of PJ Tucker and played PJ’s normal rotation. The start to the second quarter was very sloppy, with neither team really able to get going much. At 6:55, the starters returned with the lead slightly diminished at 48-42. From here out, however, the Clippers dominated. Their offense was quick, decisive, and exploited the Kings’ smaller size on the perimeter and lack of rim protection. On defense, their zone kept Fox out of the paint and forced the Kings into a series of (admittedly decent) jump shots (which they bricked). By the end of the half, the Clippers held a commanding 72-50 lead. Of particular note – the Clippers had just one turnover while forcing eight Kings’ giveaways.
The Clippers got up by as much as 25 off of a great set that got Harden a three, but the Kings began to steadily cut into the lead thereafter. The Clippers’ ball movement and decision-making on offense remained good, but the shots were not falling as readily. On the other end, he Clippers’ defense was a half-step slower, and the Kings found seams more easily. At the 4:54 mark, the Kings had the lead back down to 18 and were gaining momentum. The bench slowly started to trickle in, but while the Clippers still looked shaky, the Kings could not make enough shots to really take advantage. The closest was 17, but a couple Kawhi buckets got the lead back to 21 entering the 4th.
The Clippers were able to hang onto the lead, but the first half of the 4th quarter was not pretty on offense. The Clippers were able to scrape enough points to keep the lead in the upper teens most of the time, but a couple of Kings buckets got it all the way down to 13 at the 6:35 mark, prompting the return of Zu and Kawhi. Order was nearly instantly restored on both ends, with Kawhi and Harden leading the charge again. The Clippers couldn’t put the game fully out of reach, which meant the starters stayed in until the last minute of the game, but it never got close either, and settled as a comfortable 131-117 win.
Crisp Offense: The Clippers had by far their best offensive outing of the season, with the starters looking particularly awesome. Every starter scored at least 14 points, and Terrace was the only one without 3 or more assists. They moved the ball well, seized advantage of mismatches when presented with them, and kept care of the ball, with just four turnovers on the night. Harden’s pick and rolls with Zu led to tons of 4 on 3 plays, and Zu made the right decision time and again, leading to open threes. It was also very nice to see a dominant Kawhi game, as Leonard put in 34 points on a seemingly effortless 14-18 shooting performance. The Kings had no answer for him, yet nearly all of his shots came right in the flow of the offense. The Clippers won’t always make 50% of their shots from deep, but this more flowing, Harden-heavy offense is the way to go.
Zublocka Returns: Ivica Zubac was fantastic in this one, totally outplaying an All-NBA player in Domantas Sabonis. Zu had 14 points on 7-12 shots, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and absolutely stifled Sabonis, who had just 11 points on 3-12 shooting. Zu finished strong inside, walled off the paint, and was great moving the ball, as mentioned above. Hopefully his chemistry with Harden in the pick and roll will continue to grow from here.
Norm Injured: Norm Powell left the game early in the 4th quarter, as Harrison Barnes’ inadvertently hit Norm’s knee. Norm was able to move, but looked like he was in pain and limping. I’d be pretty surprised if we see him tomorrow, but hopefully any injury is minor.
Kobe!: Kobe Brown played his first rotation minutes of the season for a healthy Clippers team, and did not embarrass himself. He looked out of place on defense a couple times, resulting in three fouls in 10 minutes, and poor shot clock awareness led to a 24 second violation. He did, however, actually take two threes and made one, and moved around more on offense than PJ Tucker without being too costly on the other end. If this is a floor-level game for Kobe, there’s no reason to not play him over PJ on some nights.