The Clippers fought hard, but collapsed down the stretch in the 4th quarter and lost to the Bucks 105-100 in one of the best NBA games of the year so far. Read on for a full recap of the Clippers’ loss to the Bucks.
The 1st quarter started off well, with both teams playing active and focused defense. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were able to get to their spots and hit early, but none of the other starters were able to contribute much on the offensive end. The arrival of the bench unit brought improved offensive flow and movement, but the shots still didn’t fall, with Lou and Marcus Morris both being cold. The Bucks actually won the end of quarter minutes with both Giannis and Khris Middleton out, and held a four-point lead going into the second period.
The second quarter went much better for the Clippers, and it was sparked by the play of one Terance Mann, who came out like gangbusters with an offensive rebound putback and then an alley-oop dunk in transition from Lou Williams. Paul George and Lou ran the offense well, getting teammates set up and picking spots wisely. Meanwhile, Ivica Zubac played great defense on the other end, walling off the paint for the Bucks. However, the defense collapsed when the starters came back in, with several backdoor cuts generating a 12-0 Bucks run that put them on top by nine. The Clippers outside of George and Kawhi remained cold, with Beverley and Ibaka being particularly frigid from outside. However, scoring from the stars and steadier defense kept the Clippers’ deficit at a mere five points entering halftime.
The third quarter started off similarly to how the rest of the game had gone – with the Clippers generating good looks, but failing to convert. Fortunately, their defense stepped up in a major way, limiting the Bucks’ own ability to score. At around the 9:00 mark, however, things changed in a major way, as Serge Ibaka finally hit an open three. This seemed to unlock something within Serge, as he promptly dominated the rest of the quarter with his jump shooting. The Clippers’ defense held up, too, which combined with Serge’s offensive prowess game them a small lead. A massive Kawhi dunk and some Lou Williams brilliance put the finishing touches on one of the Clippers’ best quarters of the season, and gave them a four-point advantage going into the final frame.
The Clippers played well to start the 4th quarter, but the Bucks did as well. Zu was put on Giannis, and while Giannis got him once or twice, for the most part, Zu did an excellent job at reining in the two-time MVP. Paul George continued to run the offense well, finding Marcus Morris a couple times for corner threes, and Lou chipped in with a couple nice finds as well. Nearly halfway through the quarter, when Kawhi and Serge checked in, the Clippers had a six-point lead and things were looking up. The next couple minutes went fine enough too, with Kawhi Leonard dishing out of post-ups to shooters, and then the resulting ball movement generating good looks. All that changed, however, when the Clippers went small to close at the 4:01 mark. The entire rest of the game, their offense consisted solely of George and Kawhi isolation jumpers against good Bucks defenders. Oddly, they kept running PG-Kawhi pick and rolls when Middleton and Giannis were on them, which didn’t produce any kind of advantage for the Clips. On the other end, Giannis feasted against the Clippers’ small unit, scoring with ease over whoever was guarding him. The Clippers nonetheless had multiple chances to score or tie the game down the stretch, but George and Kawhi missed each time, and the scoring draught gave the Bucks the win.
Point Guard Not the Issue: Whenever the Clippers lose this year, the initial reaction is to blame the “lack of a point guard”. Considering how good the Clippers’ offense is, that isn’t a great take on the whole. And it’s a particularly bad one for this game. The Clippers’ issues down the stretch were not due to lack of a point guard, but just awful offensive strategy (targeting the Bucks’ best defenders and not trying to force mismatches) as well as poor shotmaking from George and Leonard. This loss was not on Pat Beverley (or Lou Williams), but on Ty Lue and the stars. Additionally, there aren’t many point guards out there who you’d like to have the ball in their hands over Kawhi or PG, and none of them are available with the Clippers’ limited asset pool. We have discussed the Clippers’ clutch-time woes before this recap, and they cropped up against the Bucks, but there’s not an easy fix outside of better coaching and shotmaking.
Going Small Not a Cure-All: While the Clippers’ small lineup (Pat-PG-Kawhi-Morris-Batum) has worked well on several occasions to close out teams, it did not work in this one at all. The small lineup has no rim protection and limited rebounding, which makes it susceptible to dominant big men – and Giannis counts as one. Giannis just overpowered the Clippers, and they weren’t able to create any advantages on offense. Zu could have been in to defend Giannis (he was by far their best option in this one), and Ibaka would have been a fine choice as well considering how well he played in the 3rd. Really, I just don’t think the small lineup was needed, and there are plenty of matchups where it’s not warranted. Also, Zu has been so good that he needs to close more frequently in general. As mentioned time and again throughout the past few weeks and this recap, the Clippers need to play Zubac more, and they should have against the Bucks. 16 minutes just isn’t enough for him.
Dominant Giannis: Ultimately, the main reason the Bucks won this game is that Giannis Antetokounmpo was by far the best player on the court. Giannis put up a ridiculous statline of 36 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks, and was seemingly everywhere on both ends. The Clippers could not contain him much on offense, and he disrupted their plans significantly on the other end. It was a dominant, MVP-level showing from the Greek Freak, who also had one of the best plays of the year when he stuffed a Zu dunk attempt (and also had a couple huge dunks himself). When he’s this good, the Bucks are tough to beat.
Mann Over Luke and Reggie: Ty Lue essentially went with a nine-man rotation today (weirdly, Reggie Jackson played three minutes for Paul George at the end of the 2nd quarter), and stuck with the younger Terance Mann over Luke Kennard and Reggie. Mann didn’t have a particularly notable game outside of that burst to start the 2nd, but it is interesting that he’s now worked his way above Reggie as well as Luke. He’s clearly earned the trust of the coaching staff as well as his teammates, and that’s a big win for the Clippers’ development staff and of course for Mann himself. Mann’s improvement this season is one of the best stories of the year for the Clippers.
That’s about it for this recap of the Clippers’ loss to the Bucks. Give your thoughts on the game below, and stay tuned for Lucas’ player grades and a new episode of TLTJTP!