Despite being unable to buy a basket for much of the game, LAC hung tough in a tough road game and gave themselves a chance to win before ultimately coming up short. Let’s try to unpack all of that and assign some Clippers vs Jazz player grades.
The big question I’m asking myself when evaluating this game is how to weigh things that you can’t control vs things that you can control. Of course, from the perspective of a coach or player on the team, you have to focus on what you can control. Run your stuff, get good shots, don’t worry if the result is a make or a miss. Process over results. That said, results are undeniably important, and the Clippers’ results tonight–both on a possession-by-possession basis and on the final scoreboard–came up short. I’ll try to balance that a bit here.
If you missed it with the New Year’s holiday, check out my progress reports for each Clipper following the team’s five December games. I averaged their postgame grades from each contest, then adjusted if necessary.
Clippers Starter Grades
Patrick Beverley: B. For I think the first time this season, Bev went an entire game without being pulled early due to foul trouble. He ended up with 3 fouls in his 28 minutes and was somehow +21 in a game the Clippers lost by 6. A lot of that is just statistical noise involving when the team did and didn’t hit their shots, but I actually didn’t like Ty Lue’s choice to bring Lou Williams in very early in the third to boost the team’s offense, marooning Pat on the bench for almost 14 minutes of game time. I thought he deserved a chance to impact the game more.
Paul George: B+. This is the trickiest one for me. PG simply couldn’t buy a bucket until a flurry of late threes to keep the Clippers’ hopes faintly alive, and if he had even an average night shooting the basketball (not just from deep–he was 1-9 inside the arc) LAC would have had the upper hand. But he can’t control the bounces of the rim, and he excelled at everything in his control. He was clearly a leader last night, both by voice and example, as he responded to the team’s first-half offensive struggles by putting together one of the best individual defensive halves I have ever seen in the NBA. At the end of the day, it’s hard to knock 25 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 steals, and a block. I just wish he had made a few more shots and avoided some carelessness that resulted in 5 turnovers. This might be one of the best “off nights” I’ve seen from a superstar.
Kawhi Leonard: A-. I was actually less impressed with Kawhi than PG tonight, as George’s effort defensively in the face of the team’s struggles was the main reason why they were able to stay within punching distance. But when it came to actually producing offense, Leonard was the guy. On a night where the Clippers made just 33 shots, Kawhi was responsible for 17 with 8 made field goals and 9 assists. He struggled in his own right, shooting 6-15 inside the arc with a bunch of routine shots rimming out, but a career-best 16 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 9 assists to 0 turnovers… he scrapped out an impressive performance despite his struggles.
Nicolas Batum: B. I thought it was a pedestrian night for Batum, though this grade is probably partially due to the expectation curve for him shifting due to his impactful performances early on. He finished with 9 points and 7 rebounds, playing an important part in LAC’s defense during their successful moments and smartly drawing two fouls on three-point attempts to earn points when the Clippers could otherwise not buy a bucket. But I think the team missed Marcus Morris tonight, really needing another player who could pack a punch as a scorer without exposing the team’s defense.
Serge Ibaka: B-. I didn’t think Ibaka was great tonight on either end, and while it falls squarely in the “things you can’t control” column, it really hurt the Clippers that their stretch 5 missed a bunch of open threes tonight, allowing the league’s best rim protector in Rudy Gobert to stay home and swallow up much of the team’s offense in the paint.
Clippers Bench Player Grades
Lou Williams: C. It’s hard to square Lou’s F-worth first half (2 points, 0 assists, -20 in 6:22) with his more impactful second half (5 points, 5 assists, 0 turnovers, +8 in 16:22. He gave the team good minutes in their comeback, but it was particularly the second unit that dug the hole to begin with in the late 1st and early 2nd, and he (along with Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard) was targeted defensively. The C is worse than his 7/5 with 0 turnovers deserves, but those first half bench minutes are where the Clippers lost this game.
Luke Kennard: D+. Luke was lucky to have made two threes in the second half to keep the game within reach, because he otherwise made little impact on the game while the team crumbled during his first-half minutes. Like Reggie and Lou, his defense in the first half was not good, and the Utah Jazz were aware of it. His first half was F-worthy, but a more acceptable second-half stint bumped him to a D with two made threes earning him the plus.
Ivica Zubac: D-. Big Zu came on and made an immediate impact, but quickly faded throughout both halves as Jazz backup center Derrick Favors handily outplayed him. Utah is one of the few other teams in the NBA that truly boasts a starting-caliber backup center, but it was a disappointing outing for Zu nonetheless. He gets a little credit for 12 points on dirty work around the rim but he isn’t even catching the ball consistently at this point. Mostly, he’s saved from an F by the undeniable scoring output and the team winning his second half minutes… but his all-around play has not been good to start the year.
Terance Mann: B. Playing in the second half in place of Reggie Jackson with the Clippers needing a bit of a defensive punch, Terance gave LAC solid rotational minutes, breaking even in 7 minutes on the floor. He wasn’t particularly impactful but he was solid defensively and his lack of spacing wasn’t noticeable offensively. Can he do this consistently without at least developing Batum-level comfort as a jumpshooter?
Reggie Jackson: F. Another 3-minute F for Reggie, who was part of a first-half second-unit lineup that set the Clippers back too much for their stars to make up for on an off shooting night. In Reggie’s defense, Lou and Luke were pretty much equally dreadful defensively. Reggie, however, was responsible for 2 turnovers in his short shift–one bad pass and one 5-second violation where he didn’t throw the ball in in time as the inbounder. The other guys got a chance to claw out bad but passing grades in the second half, while Reggie got glued to the bench. The core function of his job as a depth player, though, is to be playable when called upon so that starters can rest. He was so bad that he had to be pulled early in the first half, forcing Paul George to play 21 first-half minutes, and benched entirely in the second half. That’s a fail.
Players Without Grades
Marcus Morris and Jay Scrubb are both still sidelined by injuries. Amir Coffey only appeared for a few seconds as a defensive sub at the end of the first quarter, while Patrick Patterson, Mfiondu Kabengele, and Daniel Oturu were unused substitutes for Ty Lue.
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