In Kawhi Leonard’s first bit of action in weeks, the Clippers were able to pull away late from the Detroit Pistons for a 96-91 win. Check out our recap below.
Many hours before Thursday night’s 7:30 p.m. tipoff, the Clippers, and their fans, received the encouraging news that Kawhi Leonard had been upgraded from OUT to QUESTIONABLE. Shortly after, there was another status change — a promotion from QUESTIONABLE to AVAILABLE, marking Leonard’s first appearance in 25 days. And with an unusual amount of excitement for a weekday game against a bottom-tier NBA team, it took about five minutes of gameplay for it to all fall by the wayside.
The Clippers fell victim to another atrocious first quarter, totaling just 15 points for a consecutive game and failing to reach 20 for the fifth time this season. The stagnant halfcourt offense and general casualness bled into quarter No. 2, which let Detroit’s league-worst defense entirely off the hook. Fortunately for L.A., the young Pistons’ offense was essentially as poor as its own, but more due to youth and untapped talent than a lack of effort or execution. Both teams traded misses until Detroit closed the half on a 20-12 run to lead by eight at the break.
It seemed to be only a matter of time before the Clippers improved on their 34.9% first-half shooting and would begin to out-talent the Pistons. But each time a brief sign of life appeared via a Reggie Jackson or Marcus Morris Sr. string of baskets, the Pistons countered with timely jump shots from Bojan Bogdanovic and drives to the rim from Jaden Ivey. Although for as big of a role as Detroit’s offense played in stemming the tide, the Clippers gifted the Pistons opportunities with countless lackadaisical mistakes.
Yet, it never felt like the Clippers were in jeopardy of losing this game. In grind-it-out fashion, they scratched and clawed their way into a lead by the time the fourth quarter came around and eventually pulled ahead for good as a combination of Marcus Morris Sr., Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Reggie Jackson helped seal the deal.
The Clippers move to 9-7 with the win and will now prepare for a home game against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.
The Reggie Jackson experience this season continues to be everything that makes him a unique player. But on a night when not much went right for the Clippers, Reggie was there to almost single-handedly save the day. In addition to the full arsenal being on display — catch-and-shoot threes, the floater and a variety of crafty routes to the rim from off the dribble — Reggie’s shot selection and ableness to limit turnovers was the more important development on Thursday night. He finished with 23 points, three assists and three 3-pointers on 7/12 shooting.
There isn’t much to say about Kawhi’s return other than it was good to see him on the court. Clearly rusty, his shot was off, his timing was a bit awkward on defense and he looked to be finding his fit in the halfcourt. The good, and more important bit of information, is that Kawhi seemed to be moving around just fine. He was able to show some burst and good change of direction in getting to the rim toward the end of the game for his final bucket, and he upped his defensive activity both on the ball and on the defensive glass down the stretch.
Overall, you come away with more positives than negatives, given the situation.
Reggie was fantastic in this one and was clearly the Clippers’ best source of offense from the start, which made Ty Lue’s decision to ride John Wall for as long as he did very frustrating. Equally as frustrating was Robert Covington inexplicably catching another DNP-CD.
While the Clippers have been able to figure out ways to win this season, I just come away from most games unimpressed and concerned with their process. Things feel like they can be much cleaner.
As stated earlier, the Pistons entered tonight’s game with the league’s worst defensive rating. But instead of being the latest team to pick apart Detroit, the Clippers shot 40.7 percent from the field, turned the ball over 18 times and registered just 96 points on the night. With Kawhi’s reintegration back into the lineup, some of the team’s wonkiness was to be expected. Still, many of the same issues that have plagued them this season remained, including a lack of creativity in the halfcourt, an inability to take care of the ball, and a failure to get up shots.
The Clippers desperately need to be better on the offensive end, and perhaps they will round into form if Kawhi and others can remain healthy.