I was able to cover the Clippers in person for the first time since the 2019 playoffs (which feel like a halftime ago), and though there were some interesting takeaways from watching live at Staples. Here are five thoughts that struck me particularly while covering the Clippers in person in their win yesterday over the Mavs.
The Anticipation for Luke Threes
Every time Luke Kennard rose for a three, the crowd buzzed in anticipation. Such is usually the response to great shooters at home, and it’s always fun when one of those guys is feeling it. Luke knocked in several threes, each meeting rapturous cheers. While Paul George is a “better” shooter than Kennard due to the degree of difficulty on the shots he takes and makes, Luke is a sharpshooter the likes of which the Clippers haven’t truly had since J.J. Redick donned a Clippers jersey a half-decade ago. The crowd thinks every three he takes is falling, and that makes for a fun experience.
While the crowd never filled out entirely (this was certainly no sellout), by the end of the game Staples was mostly full – and the vast majority of the attendees were Clippers fans. While the Mavs are a big market team with a large fanbase and a burgeoning superstar in Luka Doncic (whose game attracts many “casual” fans), their fan presence at Staples was fairly minimal. The Clippers’ crowd wasn’t exactly raucous, but it was a consistent presence, with chants of “d-fense”, “Reg-gie”, “MVP”, and “lets go Clippers” ringing through the arena at the appropriate moments. In bigger games the crowd will certainly have more energy, but it was a pretty good showing.
One exception to the above was when Mavericks’ center Boban Marjanovic was in the game. Big Bobi was only on the Clippers for a single year across parts of two seasons, but was a massive fan favorite and clearly has the hearts of some Clippers’ fans to this day, as there were persistent cheers when he scored. And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. Bobi is a wonderful guy, a fun player to watch, and also doesn’t get enough playing time to warrant much pushback (if say Blake Griffin was killing the Clippers, the cheers would probably stop after the third or fourth bucket). Pat Beverley has already had his homecoming, but it will be interesting to see when the fan favorite of all fan favorites, Lou Williams, returns later this year.
Camaraderie on the Team Stands Out
You can tell when teams are clicking chemistry-wise on TV, but it’s much more apparent in person. And this Clippers’ team, while there might not be that lighting-in-a-bottle kind of magic that hit the 2019 squad, definitely has some positive stuff going. The team constantly stands for key plays, erupts out of their seats for highlights, and are energetic in cheering and yelling encouragement on the sidelines. It’s definitely a group that is supportive and positive, and that kind of mentality and group dynamic can help make up for lack of talent and other difficulties.
Clippers’ Offensive Stagnancy and Defensive Energy
For a negative, the Clippers’ lack of movement and flow as also readily apparent. The Clippers looked stuck in the mud most of the afternoon, and in person, it was much easier to see just how little the Clippers were able to penetrate the paint and find advantages. The offense devolved into one-on-one actions at an alarming Clip, and while Paul George and Reggie Jackson were able to push the Clippers to a win, it did not have the makings of a sustainable offense. You can really see the lack of creation in the arena, and the huge reliance on PG and Reggie.
Conversely, and more positively, the Clippers’ energy on defense was also easier to see. They were really flying around on the court, and were smartly gambling to force turnovers without weakening the defense. The Clippers are not big, nor are they particularly athletic, but they play hard, smart, and with physicality on defense, and that goes a long way. They understand Ty Lue and Dan Craig’s schemes, and execute them well.
All that is to say that until Kawhi Leonard (and Marcus Morris and Nic Batum) are back, the Clippers are going to have to keep winning games the way they have been – with stout defense and just enough offense to get by.