One of the more bizarre games of the regular season is going to leave me with some difficult choices in these Clippers vs Hawks player grades–and some easy ones. After some improved defense helped the Clippers get a split against the Dallas Mavericks last week before demolishing the Charlotte Hornets over the weekend, there was finally a bit of hope that things could be trending in the right direction for LAC. That hope was dashed as all-too-familiar Clipper listlessness led them to fall behind by double digits in the second quarter and as many as 22 points in the mid-third, when Ty Lue had seen enough. He pulled the entire starting lineup and put out a crew of Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, Amir Coffey, Nicolas Batum, and Patrick Patterson, and… it worked. The Clippers stormed back into the game, with Kennard’s +30 in 18 minutes symbolizing the turnaround, and ultimately won one of their most emotionally satisfying games since Kawhi Leonard and Paul George came to Los Angeles.
Clippers Starter Grades
Reggie Jackson: D. Reggie has greatly exceeded expectations for a minimum-salary player this season, and he’s added a lot of positive value and helped the Clippers win a number of games. But there’s competition for minutes among LAC’s guards, and while I defended Ty Lue’s decision to ultimately play Jackson over Luke Kennard after the latter’s struggles this season, the tide has clearly turned in recent weeks and became a tsunami in this contest.
Paul George: D. The Clipper’s second-best player just didn’t bring the type of impact–tangible or not–that you need from him on a night-to-night basis. I don’t have much else to say for Paul in this one.
Kawhi Leonard: B. Kawhi gets a B, in part because he was individually fine in the box score through most of LAC’s struggles but mostly because he came back into the game late with a new level of engagement, putting up 11 points on 3-4 shooting (1-1 from two, 2-3 from deep, 3-3 from the line) in the fourth quarter to help the Clippers complete their comeback and finalize the win. We even saw some serious Kawhi emotion late in this game–enough to salvage a decent grade despite contributing to the team’s low-effort defense earlier on and making a failed attempt to “take over” by forcing tough shots offensively in the third as the deficit grew.
Marcus Morris: B. It feels wrong to give multiple starters passing grades after the way last night’s game unfolded, but I’d have a hard time defending less than a B for Marcus against a grade appeal. After all, he had 16 points on 5-9 shooting during the bad stretch of the game, and then came back in to play center in a small-ball closing lineup and hit a big corner three to push LAC’s lead to 5 with 2 minutes left, and the Clippers’ late-game three-point flurry ultimately saw him finish with a positive +/-, which isn’t a very stable measure of a player’s quality but indicates that his minutes can’t have been a true disaster.
Ivica Zubac: B-. Again, despite his presence during that embarrassing stretch, I’m hard-pressed to fully justify why Zu should get the brunt of the blame. If the Clippers had lost that game, I might have just given every starter an F and called it a day. Unlike Morris and Kawhi, Zu didn’t get a chance to partake in the Clippers’ fourth quarter run to close the game. Other than that, though, I don’t think he was individually bad in his minutes… just that when 3 of your main 7 guys, all of whom happen to be among your highest-usage ball handlers, have absolute stinkers, the dirty work 7-footer can end up a little helpless to individually turn the tide.
Clippers Bench Player Grades
Terance Mann: A. It was no coincidence that with the Clippers fully stuck in the mud on both ends, Mann was the first player at the scorer’s table a few minutes into the third quarter as Lue sought to inject some energy into the lineup. It wouldn’t manifest until a couple minutes later when Luke Kennard joined Mann on the floor, but make no mistake: Terance and Luke share the game ball tonight. His 21 points are a season high, as were his 10 rebounds, and he was agressive and confident attacking the rim and keeping Atlanta on their heels for the final 18 minutes of play. Especially when viewed through the lens of his contract–$1.5M this year, $1.8M next year, and $1.9M the year after–Terance’s play grows more and more encouraging.
Nicolas Batum: B-. I don’t really know what to do with Nic in this game. In part, it was the second unit who really provided a letdown after a nice start to the game for the Clippers’ starters and let the game slip out of hand. But, Nic was part of the bench crew inserted to go on a massive run, and while the box score shows him as being mostly a bystander to Mann and Kennard, Luke credited Nic with being the team’s leader on the court throughout that entire stretch. I have a hard time knocking him all the way down to a C knowing how crucial he was to that run, but I also have a hard time giving him a standard B considering how minor his tangible contributions were.
Luke Kennard: A. Is there even any doubt? Luke was the first player to have 20 or more points on 100% shooting, 7 or more rebounds, and 4 or more assists in under 20 minutes played in an NBA game since 1971. He was literally perfect offensively, damn good defensively, and absolutely busted his ass for the team en route to the Clippers winning his 18 minutes by 30 points. I haven’t graded Luke a lot recently because he hasn’t gotten many meaningful minutes–tonight, he took the minutes he could get and made them meaningful through sheer force of will. After a really frustrating stretch of games to start the year, getting benched may be exactly what Luke needed to motivate him to prove that he’s simply too talented to be out of an NBA team’s rotation. I’m really excited for new Luke going forward.
Patrick Patterson: A-. PatPat didn’t play quite the role that Luke or Terance did in the Clippers’ comeback, but considering what we’ve seen from him this year, it’s a pretty great outcome for him to be on the floor during a stretch of minutes that the Clippers won by double figures. After playing a small part in the team’s miserable first half, Patterson joined the rest of the second unit in bringing fight in the third quarter and willing the team back into the game.
Amir Coffey: A. Similarly, Amir didn’t have the same crazy run as Terance or Luke, but for a guy on a two-way contract to get thrown out there with a 20-point deficit and be a part of a gritty lineup that clawed back into a game… expectations should be so low for a player who isn’t even on the 15-man roster that even the fact that such a run could occur with him on the court is more than you’d hope for from a two-way guy.
Lou Williams: F. I list the bench guys in order of minutes played, so Lou ends up last after playing just 9 minutes in the first half and not returning to the game. Lou was 0-3 from the field and had 1 assist and 2 turnovers in his 9 minutes, and it was really this shift of 2nd unit (which is really a hybrid unit as Lue staggeres his lineups) play that saw the game get away from the Clippers in the first half.
Mfiondu Kabengele’s time with the Clippers has come to an end, freeing me of the guilt of picking on him in this column. That meant that Daniel Oturu was the team’s only actual unused sub, with Patrick Beverley, Serge Ibaka, and Jay Scrubb all sidelined with injuries.
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