The Clippers went into Orlando, took on a feisty, defensively-strong Magic team, and emerged with a gritty 100-97 win to hang onto 4th place in the West.


The first quarter was a defense-first affair. The Clippers played with energy and force to start, as did the Magic, and neither team could get into a rhythm. The Magic led 8-6 at the 6:54 mark with the first timeout, but the Clippers then went on a quick 10-0 run through stops and getting out in transition. The Magic answered, but could not quite catch up, and the Clippers nurtured a small lead the rest of the period, even when the bench unit of Russ, Norm, Coffey, and Plumlee came in to join Kawhi. After one, the Clippers led 23-19.

Things picked up tempo, with the Clippers going with their bench unit plus Harden and the Magic sticking with in all bench unit. The defense notably lapsed a bit, though the intensity did not, with Joe Ingles and Russ getting into it a bit. The Clippers led 37-32 at the 7:36 mark when most of the starters were back on both sides, and the game immediately dragged to a crawl again. Both teams actually shot well from the field, but the Clippers only took 8 threes (making three) and neither team got to the foul line much. At half, the Clippers led 52-50, partially due to having “only” seven turnovers to the Magic’s nine.

The Clippers’ defense started off stifling, and being able to get out on the break once again got them going on offense. A swift 9-0 run had the Clippers up 61-50 at 9:21, and it looked like they could pull away. Unfortunately, the Clippers became infected with the sloppy play they’ve shown all season, and a few horrible decisions by Harden led to  lightning-fast Magic 9-0 run of they’re own, bringing it back to 61-60 at 7:35. Russ came in shortly thereafter, but the Magic had confidence, and two thunderous Banchero dunks got the Magic up 68-66 at 4:19 to go. The Magic went to their bench, as did the Clippers, and Kawhi struck. The Clippers went on a 19-9 run to close the period, carried by Kawhi, and led 85-77 after three.

The Clippers ran out the same unit they used to start the 2nd, but with worse results, especially on offense. PG quickly returned for Russ, and Kawhi and Zu came back at the 7:55 mark with the Clips up 89-83 to go with their Powell Rangers unit. The Clippers’ offensive process improved a bit, but they missed a number of open shots, and the Magic finally got going on the other end, going up 94-89 at the 4:39 mark. The Clippers’ defense tightened up, and a speedy 5-0 burst by PG tied it up. Unfortunately, he missed a corner three, and Franz got free throws the other way (though he only went 1-2) put the Magic back ahead.

Both teams locked up on defense, with buckets very hard to come by. A Kawhi middy put the Clippers up 1, but Banchero got a floater the other way. PG got stuffed at the rim by Isaac, and the Magic had a chance to go up 3 or 4. Harden was able to strip Banchero, however, and Kawhi hit a tough middy, putting the Clippers up 98-97 with 34.3 to go. Harden got another steal by deflecting a Banchero pass, and PG hit a ridiculous shot in the lane over Isaac, 100-97 with 5.1 to go. Franz got a 3 off and missed, the Magic got the ball out of bounds, and Franz missed another 3, with the Clippers barely holding on for the win.


Kawhi Carries: PG and Harden made big plays late, and Norm and Zu had solid games, but Kawhi Leonard was the steadying force all game that got the Clippers the win. In one of his most dominant performances in a while, Kawhi had 29 points on 12-21 shooting, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks in 38 minutes. He hounded Banchero and Franz on defense, got buckets whenever the Clippers needed them, and led both teams in rebounds. It was the kind of superstar performance the Clippers will have to see regularly from Kawhi if they are to make a deep playoff run.

No Small Ball: A notable change in this game was that the Clippers did not go small at all. Zu played 35 minutes (and was great) while Plumlee played 13 (and had his best game in a while despite some defensive breakdowns). There was no PJ Tucker, and only very, very limited no-center minutes to close periods on defense or offense. The Magic are a big, physical team so it made sense for the Clippers to keep a big out there, and for me, it was an encouraging sign. The Clippers’ small-ball units have viability, but they are situational, not an every-game thing, at least in heavy doses, and Ty trusting Zu like this was refreshing. Hopefully Zu closes out the season strong – if he keeps playing like this, I will feel much better about the Clippers’ defense.

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