It was an admirable fight, but LA was simply too undermanned to hang with the league leaders for 48 minutes. Let’s see how everyone did in our Clippers vs Jazz player grades.
Clippers Starter Grades
Patrick Beverley: A. I’m gonna be really positive for a loss tonight, considering that the Clippers looked like a legitimate threat until Utah gained some separation late in the third quarter. For my money, the primary reason that the Clippers kept Utah’s offense in check for about 30 minutes was their point of attack defense, which of course starts with Pat. Utah’s scheme is built around gaining an advantage in their primary pick-and-roll and either scoring with that advantage or, ideally, forcing you to bring help to stop it. That’s when they kick the ball out to the corners, swing it around the perimeter like no other team in the NBA, and toast teams with a truly special combination of volume and efficiency from downtown. It didn’t–and couldn’t, without LAC’s stars and with Pat on a minutes restriction–last 48 minutes, but for much of his time on the court Pat kept Utah’s offense bottled up at the source.
Reggie Jackson: B+. An overall nice night for Reggie, who contributed 15 points on 5-12 shooting despite going just 1-5 from downtown (I won’t hold one cold shooting night against a guy, but it’s worth noting Reggie has cooled off to 34.8% on the season). He took a couple bad shots, but that’s forgiveable on an overall acceptable efficiency night. He had a couple of bad turnovers, but 5 assists to 3 turnovers isn’t terrible (it certainly isn’t good either, but he’s a third-string PG playing against the 2nd-best defense in the NBA). I’m not interested in picking on his defense for being worse than Pat or Terance (duh, it should be) when he’s meeting any reasonable expectation playing out of position against much bigger guys. Here’s a really good Reggie trend of late: he’s getting fast break points, which have been few and far between for the Clippers this season.
Lou Williams: B. I’m not going to shower Lou with praise for going 6-18 for 16 points, 6 assists, and 5 turnovers in an 18-point loss. But it’s also clear that the Clippers facing Utah’s defense without George and Leonard was akin to being up the creek without a paddle. The Clippers had an awful 92.3 offensive rating last night, but I didn’t expect any different. It’s a lot easier to be Lou Will (and Marcus Morris) when you’re going against an elite defense’s secondary defenders and/or backups than when the stoppers and help are all geared towards you as the primary weapon. Things got even worse–an ORTG of 85.2–in the 13 minutes Lou was on the bench. So while he wasn’t good by any objective standard, he was the primary guy creating what little offense LAC did have as they stayed alive on the merit of their defense.
Marcus Morris: C. Again, I’m just not going to be too harsh considering the context, but Morris was mostly a non-factor tonight in a game where the Clippers needed some shot-making. He’s earned an off night to average out his extremely hot shooting of late, and the grade average will reflect that at the end of the month. I know it’s probably just regression coupled with Utah’s elite defense, but I can’t help but feel that a bad shot selection night for Morris contributed to his struggles. He was 2-6 from the mid-range, all on pretty tough looks, and only got 2 real three point attempts off (his third was a deep end-of-quarter heave). Just 20% of his FGA came from deep last night, compared to 50% on the season.
Serge Ibaka: B. Rudy Gobert is the best player on the best team in the league for a reason, and it’s worth putting any conversation about their head-to-head play in the context of their price points: the Jazz just gave Gobert a 5-year, $205 million extension while the Clippers signed Ibaka to a 2-year, $18 million deal. So, yeah, you’re supposed to lose the C production battle vs Utah, and make up for it on the wings–where the Clippers should have the advantage when fully healthy. I don’t think Serge was exemplary tonight but I don’t think he was terrible either in his matchup. I do think there are some lessons to learn, though. First, take more threes–picking and popping to 15-18 feet doesn’t stretch the defense as much or produce as efficient of outcomes. Second, be decisive. Gobert’s shot-blocking was at the front of Serge’s mind all night, and almost all of his offensive movements came with some kind of hesitation. He’s right to be mindful of Rudy’s presence, but hesitating doesn’t tend to aid efficiency.
Clippers Bench Player Grades
Terance Mann: A-. Great point of attack defense for most of the night, and a worthy understudy to Patrick Beverley in that department at this point. You really want to start him on a shorthanded night like tonight to bolster the first unit’s defense, but you essentially need one of him or Pat on the floor at all times. Mann’s confidence offensively continues to grow, as does his offensive reportoire on display. The three-pointers aren’t falling yet, but he’s taking the shots he needs to take, in rhythm, with confidence. We’ll have to see how those spot-up numbers shake up over a larger sample, but it’s been a very encouraging month for Terance.
Amir Coffey: A-. What is there to say? Amir isn’t going to make all of his shots forever, but all the Clippers can do is embrace the luck of having a fringe guy go through the shooting spell of his life when you’re missing multiple players ahead of him in the rotation. Slight knock for looseness with the ball, as 4 turnovers is a pretty disproportionate amount of miscues considering his role, and turnovers plagued the Clippers throughout this game.
Ivica Zubac: B-. Zu had a legitimately good first half shift, but was the victim of Gobert’s decision to take over the game in the second. That’s not really Zu’s fault, and I think the main lesson learned from his struggles on the defensive glass against Rudy were for the team as a whole–when the Clippers’ guy is Ivica Zubac and the opponent’s guy is Rudy Gobert, and those two are battling on the glass, LA’s guards and forwards simply have to provide rebounding support. A lot of Utah’s offensive rebounds in the second half came when Zu was fighting Rudy and forced him into getting a tip instead of grabbing the ball. The other Clippers have to be quicker to the second ball. But that’s not about Zu’s grade–I just really don’t like his body language lately. I don’t really mind pointing and barking after miscues (after all, don’t we want him to become a more vocal defensive captain on the back line?), but there’s a line between leadership and pouting, and I think Zu oscillates between giving instructions and growing frustrated a little too easily lately. Slumped shoulders, exasperated looks, arguments with officials after a correctly-called foul followed by a second frustration foul… there’s a lot to clean up in what you’d honestly describe as the “maturity” category.
Patrick Patterson: D. I’m not letting PatPat get away with a couple of garbage time buckets as stat-line rehabilitation. He contributed absolutely nothing tonight in rotation minutes, and it just isn’t clear what he has left to offer at this level. Other than his 5-5 game against the Knicks, has Pat actually contributed anything meaningful through 30 games? If a guy can only make a positive impact when he’s shooting 100% from the field, it’s not a good sign. I can’t decide if it’s worse for Patterson that Amir Coffey is clearly ahead of him in the rotation, or that when Patterson does finally play I find myself wishing Coffey was just picking up a few extra minutes instead?
Mfiondu Kabengele: D. Not an NBA player.
Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Nicolas Batum, Luke Kennard, Jay Scrubb, and Daniel Oturu are all sidelined with various injuries and ailments. The Clippers will hope to get some combinations of these guys–particularly the first four–back sooner rather than later.
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