Despite a rash of injuries to important players, LAC put their best foot forward tonight and rode a wave of three pointers to their sixth straight victory. Check out a full Clippers vs. Bucks game recap and player grades below.
With Patrick Beverley and Serge Ibaka still out with their respective injuries (and Rajon Rondo, but since he has yet to debut it doesn’t feel like the team misses him in the same way), the Clippers were already going to be a bit undermanned against an elite Milwaukee Bucks squad that went out of their way to rest their key players in their last game as they geared up for this contest. When the news came that Paul George was a late scratch with foot soreness? Well, you could have hardly blamed Clippers fans for feeling like this contest was a bit of a lost cause. With Reggie Jackson continuing to start in place of Beverley and Ivica Zubac in place of Ibaka, Luke Kennard joined the makeshift starting unit in place of George.
The Clippers actually got out to a strong start with their unusual starting crew, leading on and off through the first half of the opening frame. But as is so often the case when you’re shorthanded, the absence of quality rotation players on the second unit was felt more severely than the downgrade in talent on the first unit. The level of play dropped off noticeably with Patrick Patterson and Amir Coffey on the floor to end the period, and the Clippers didn’t get away with it as Milwaukee hit a string of clean looks to take the lead and extend it to 12 by the end of the frame, sparking pessimism about the Clippers’ hopes in this matchup without so many key players.
But if that Bucks run damaged LAC’s optimism as much as it did for those of us watching at home, the team didn’t show it. After a scoreless opening frame, Terance Mann took over the game, with 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in the second quarter as the Clippers climbed back into the game and eventually took a narrow lead into halftime. The story of this quarter–and the game, really–was Mann’s continued excellence in breaking down an elite defense off the dribble to create paint opportunities for himself as well as wide open looks for his teammates. But he didn’t achieve this result on his own. Marcus Morris also had a really strong night, making some difficult shots in response to being asked to shoulder a greater offensive load with George sidelined. Eight of his 25 points on the night came in the second period.
Then, in the blink of an eye, the Clippers took control of the game coming out of halftime, jumping from a 57-57 tie in the opening seconds of the half to a 68-59 lead. While Milwaukee would remain competitive throughout the second half, they never challenged their hosts’ lead again, in large part because Reggie Jackson went on a scoring tear in the third quarter, scoring on three drives within a minute at one point as part of his massive 15-point period. Leonard made a healthy contribution with 8 of his own, Mann continued attacking and found a couple more assists, and well-rounded contributions–two Morris jumpers, a pair of Batum threes, a couple of Zubac finishes–made for a 39-point third quarter outburst from the Clippers that would give them a strong 10-point buffer heading into the final frame.
The Bucks, led by reigning NBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo, weren’t going to let a 10-point deficit scare them away. The two teams exchanged scoring possessions early in the fourth, flirting with the double-digit threshold. And then, it was over. After a Nicolas Batum offensive rebound, some smart passing found Luke Kennard for an open three that pushed the Clippers’ lead back to 10 with 7:11 to play. Then, after a Milwaukee basket, Kennard came back down and hit a stepback three to reset the lead to 11. Then, after steal by Leonard, Kennard hit another three–his third in as many possessions–to push the lead to 14. And then, just two possessions later, Kennard hit another three to give LAC a 17-point advantage with 5:12 to play–4/4 from beyond the arc in 5 possessions in 1:59 of game time. Not bad for a guy who has found playing time hard to come by in recent weeks.
It was a fitting bit of parallelism to end the game for the Clippers, with each of their three fringe rotational guards dominating one of the contest’s quarters to lift them to a surprising, shorthanded victory. Mann’s downhill playmaking in the second, Jackson’s three-level scoring in the third, and Kennard’s red-hot shooting in the fourth each catalyzed a run that swung the game about 10 points in the Clippers’ favor–from down 10 to tied, from tied to up 10, and from up 10 to up 20, turning a game LAC really had no business winning into a blowout in their favor.
Clippers vs Bucks Player Grades
Reggie Jackson: A. For the reasons I mentioned above, there’s little doubt that Jackson deserves flying colors for his performance tonight. He had an efficient 20 points in a game where LAC needed some scoring help (on paper, though so many guys stepped up in George’s absence that it was actually fine), and–pinch me I must be dreaming–took over the game offensively to help the Clippers pull ahead in the second half against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Luke Kennard: A. Man, Ty Lue is going to have difficult decisions to make when Beverley, George, and to a lesser extent Rondo are all available to play. Kennard has been simply fantastic in recent weeks, and it isn’t just his blistering shooting–he’s been sharper on the ball, decisive and aggressive, and it’s even fueled some good defensive engagement too.
Kawhi Leonard: A-. Kawhi was good tonight, but perhaps not the kind of special you’d expect him to have to be in order for the Clippers to beat, let alone crush, the Bucks without PG. He had 23 points on 10-21 shooting, hitting some timely shots in the mid-range, and came close to a triple-double with 9 rebounds and 8 assists in his 36 minutes. Milwaukee brought extra defenders, he made the right play, and his teammates converted.
Marcus Morris: A. Marcus had a really nice presence tonight, both converting the good shots that the Clippers created within the flow of their offense and bailing them out in some key moments where they got a little stuck to keep the momentum flowing. He finished with a very efficient 25 points on 9-16 shooting, including 4-7 from beyond the arc, and also added 5 rebounds and 3 assists. In his normal role, he can dial back the forced post-up/mid-range looks a bit–and he won’t hit them at this rate over a larger sample size–but man, it’s a luxury to have a guy like this who can play that role comfortable when needed.
Ivica Zubac: A-. Zu wasn’t quite as dominant with his finishing tonight, but he continues to take advantage of his nightly opportunity in the starting lineup to prove that he should keep playing heavy minutes as the Clippers’ primary center when Serge Ibaka returns. He’s far and away the team’s best option against Giannis, in addition to already having established himself as the team’s best option against Jokic. Is he their best option against Anthony Davis, too? It wouldn’t surprise me. Even without a key match-up, he’s the backbone of everything good that happens defensively, and his offensive rebounding might be the most undervalued skill of any Clipper–not only does he win the team extra possessions, but he competes on the offensive glass so tirelessly that even when he doesn’t end up with the ball, he is constantly forcing extra defensive rebounders back into the paint to secure the ball, stalling opposing transition offenses.
Terance Mann: A. Despite not joining the 20-point club with Reggie and Luke, Terance was in my estimation the most important of this trio in tonight’s game. His downhill attack set the tone for the Clippers earlier in the game when they were still struggling, and it truly changed the dynamic of what LAC could do offensively and how the Bucks were forced to guard them. In addition to his 14 points on 6-12 shooting, he had 6 rebounds and 6 assists, and his court vision was phenomenal in this game. I honestly have no idea if we’re in the midst of a host streak for Terance that will eventually subside, or if we’re just scratching the surface for a guy who might actually be becoming a star.
Nicolas Batum: A-. He didn’t have the explosive impact of some of his teammates, but Nic was still really good in this contest. His 8 points on 2-5 from three were of course important, but it was defensively where he added the most value. It’s understandably hard for him to play small-ball center against Giannis-led lineups, but aside from those moments he continues to be an essential, switchy, gluey teammate for the Clippers on the defensive end of the court. A chasedown block followed up by a putback dunk? Who is this guy that Robert Flom was calling washed?
Patrick Patterson: B-. If PatPat’s job is to come in and hit his shots, he did that tonight, going 3-3 from deep in 12 minutes (one came in garbage time, but the other two were still with the game very much in play). And he even earned a nod from C+ to B- because he was much more competitive on the defensive end in the second half, playing with a bit of pride and even moving his feet well to take a good charge against a Giannis drive. But it’s always troubling to me when Patterson has a night where he can’t miss, and yet his minutes are still a disaster, and that was the case in the first half tonight. The rest of the Clippers were good enough tonight that it didn’t matter, but if you played tonight’s 2nd half 100 times, the Clippers probably lose most of the time and that 5 minute, -12 first half shift for Patterson would be harped on. The good news is that their buyout market activity indicates that the Clippers know they need a new backup big man and will look to add one soon.
Amir Coffey: B. I don’t think Coffey did anything really spectacular to stand out in this game, but for a guy on a two-way contract pressed into some rotation minutes, that’s a good thing in and of itself. I’d like to see more of Amir–not in the normal rotation of course, but I’m 100% ready to prioritize increasing his minutes when shorthanded to keep Patterson off the floor.
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