After last night’s exciting Christmas Clippers vs Nuggets game, let’s take a look at LAC’s player grades for the night. It was a great win for the Clippers, who have to feel like they’ve put some serious baggage behind them with back-to-back wins against the Lakers and Nuggets to open the season. Nothing comes close to making up for their embarrassing exit from the 2020 NBA Playoffs, but there couldn’t be two better building blocks to kick off their 2021 campaign than these two wins.
The Clippers started out a bit lethargic, with 5 turnovers in the first few minutes of the game, and overall finished with a sloppy 18 turnovers. But their adventurous offense came with rich rewards, too: 32 assists on 41 made baskets, 19-38 (50%) from three, and 121 points (98 through 3 quarters) against a very good team. The fourth quarter got a little tense, starting with an 11-0 Denver run that bridged the final two frames and cut a 24-point lead to 13, but the Clippers deserve credit for holding the Nuggets at arm’s length and ultimately winning by that 13-point margin without the game ever really being in doubt.
Clippers Starters Grades
- Patrick Beverley: C+. In reality, Pat’s impact on the game when he played was better than this. But his impact was also severely limited by his own poor decision-making defensively, as foul trouble forced Ty Lue to pull Pat from the game early in each of the first three quarters. Some really impactful plays to maintain the lead in the fourth moved him from a C- to a C+ but this was a disappointing outing for Pat overall.
- Paul George: B+. A nice night for George, who scored efficiently on low volume (23 points on 8-14 shooting and 5-9 from deep) and created for others not-so-efficiently but with high volume (9 assists and 6 turnovers). I’d really like to see Paul turn the ball over less than his 11 turnovers through 2 games, and I’d like to see him get to the free throw line more than his 4 FTA so far this season. Those adjustments will help keep his grades high when he stops posting unsustainable shooting splits.
- Kawhi Leonard: B+. Leonard had a similarly good but unspectacular night, and deserves a bit of appreciation for a 21 point (8-14 shooting), 7 assist (and only 2 turnovers), 5 rebound, 4 steal performance. The Clippers are doing a really encouraging job of consistently creating good looks by playing through Kawhi in the mid post and moving around him. Hopefully the 8 stitches he had to receive for a cut in his mouth don’t hold him back going forward.
- Nic Batum: A. This is the gold standard of Batum games. Let’s take a moment to appreciate that he was 2nd on the team in minutes at 36, because he’s quickly proven in two outings that he’s trustworthy on both ends of the floor. Then consider his production: 13 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal, a block, and 2-5 from three all while playing good defense. We can fret about sustainability later; this is an A performance for Nic.
- Serge Ibaka: B+. Man, even as a Zubac lover, it’s really wonderful to see what a versatile offensive center can bring to this lineup. Kick outs for threes? Pump fake and drive past slower centers for dunks? Short rolls for 12-foot jumpers? It didn’t hurt that he was a hyper-efficient 6-9 from the field and 2-2 from three to get his 15 points. But the game is played on two ends of the floor, and while struggling against Nikola Jokic is no shame (and should be expected for Serge), finishing with just 2 rebounds and limited minutes due to foul trouble hindered the team’s efforts to extend their lead early.
Clippers Bench Player Grades
Lou Williams: B. Despite another quiet night, I’ll never complain about a version of Lou Williams who adds 8 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal in 24 minutes while shooting 3-7 from the field and 2-4 from three. He was weirdly forced into a lot of Beverley’s minutes due to Pat’s foul trouble, so most of the guard rotation was playing in unfamiliar combinations tonight.
Luke Kennard: B. Part of leaving Luke’s grades a little low is optimism: I think that 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists is just scratching the surface of what he can contribute when he fully gets in the flow of the offense after missing a full year of games. One knock on him in Detroit was that he could be too passive; selective aggression to make sure he gets himself going would be appreciated.
Ivica Zubac: C-. I was left disappointed in Zu tonight after good performances against Denver in the playoffs. He gets a C- instead of a D because he did add 12 points by virtue of going 8-11 at the line–but frankly it felt like he benefited from calls that seemed 50/50 and could have easily filled his stat line with more turnovers and missed shots around the rim. He was limited to 19 minutes due to foul trouble, made some mistakes defensively early on, and grabbed 0 rebounds–something that hasn’t happened since he came to LAC. We’ll look for better outings from Zu going forward.
Reggie Jackson: C+. I think Reggie deserves this, since he was more or less passable while playing an unexpected assortment of minutes due to Beverley’s foul trouble ahead of him. Still, though, his stint was peppered with poor decision-making (including one incredibly lucky play where a low-IQ drive culminated in a twirling floater that was blocked out to a waiting Patrick Patterson for a corner 3). But, we’re grading on a curve. Reggie wasn’t a good NBA player in this game but you don’t expect that on your third string, you just hope for competence. He made the same amount of mistakes in 13 minutes vs Denver as he did in 3 minutes vs LAL.
Patrick Patterson: B. I want to appreciate Patterson’s readiness–he’s a 6’8″ power forward who came in as an emergency center against the best big man in the NBA because both centers ahead of him were in foul trouble. He earned praise from Ty Lue postgame for making the best of unexpected minutes and knowing the team’s plays and schemes from multiple positions. But I just can’t go higher than B because he didn’t actually play very well–4 fouls in 11 minutes and defensive movement that looked like he had bricks in his shoes. At least he hit his only three-point attempt and added 3 rebounds and 2 assists.
Terance Mann: C-. Man, it stings to give Terance a lower grade than Reggie, but I have to be honest. While he didn’t make the same poor decisions offensively as Reggie, he didn’t really add to the Clippers’ attack at all in his 5 minutes on the floor and he made several defensive errors. I know he’s touted as a promising young defender but off the ball I noticed poor positioning or missed reads causing trouble throughout the pre-season and it happened a couple of times tonight. Surpassing Reggie for the depth guard role seems attainable but he’s got to actually earn it by being more solid.
Marcus Morris and Jay Scrubb were both out with injuries vs Denver. Amir Coffey and Daniel Oturu only appeared in the closing moments. Mfiondu Kabengele played in garbage time too but also made a cameo at the end of the 2nd to guard Nikola Jokic for one possession while Ibaka, Zubac, and Patterson avoided furthering their foul trouble–he let Jokic hit a three over him as time wound down in the first half but we won’t hold that against him. We should, though, consider what it means for Fi and Oturu that Patrick Patterson played out of position as an emergency center against a legit 7-footer before either of them were trusted to mix things up for a few minutes.