Clippers trail by 50 at halftime en route to loss to Mavericks

Holding a freshly printed box score, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer stared blankly at the sheet of paper Sunday afternoon inside Staples Center, as team president Lawrence Frank stood at his side.

The numbers were not a misprint. They told the brutal reality after one of the ugliest halves in the franchise’s five-decade history.

The Clippers were trailing Dallas by an eye-popping 50 points, the largest halftime deficit since the NBA introduced the shot clock 66 years before, and the trouble wasn’t only that star forward Kawhi Leonard missed the game, two days after needing eight stitches to close a laceration in his mouth, and forward Marcus Morris, another top defender, missed his third consecutive game because of a sore knee.

During a 124-73 Mavericks rout, the free-flowing offense that carried the Clippers through gut-check victories against the Lakers and Denver, two of the Western Conference’s top contenders, crumbled under a horrific shooting performance in which the Clippers make one of their first 20 three-point attempts.

It was the largest margin of defeat in Clippers history, worse than a pair of 48-point losses from 1994.

The poise displayed while weathering rallies by the Lakers and Nuggets days before was nowhere evident during the first quarter, when the Clippers were unable to recover from a litany of early turnovers and misses, allowing their free fall to continue unchecked.

It was the first home game of the Clippers’ season, yet it was probably for the better that COVID-19 pandemic protocols kept fans from watching in person. While Dallas star Luka Doncic scored 13 points, with six rebounds and four assists, in the first quarter alone, the Clippers mustered 13 points total, looking as though they were still sleep-walking from their 4:30 a.m. arrival Saturday following their win in Denver.

It took 10 minutes for the Clippers (2-1) to crack double-digit scoring. By that point, Dallas had already scored 29 points. It also took 10 minutes for any Clipper other than Paul George to score and another five minutes for Luke Kennard to become the third Clipper to register a point.

By halftime, the Mavericks (1-2) had made nine three-pointers and the Clippers nine shots in total.

There was a brief moment of pushback to begin the third quarter, when 10 unanswered points by the Clippers trimmed their deficit to 40. By the quarter’s end, however, starters had been replaced by reserves and the Mavericks led 104-57.

The Clippers avoided making more history midway through the fourth quarter when Reggie Jackson’s three-pointer gave them 66 points, ensuring they would exceed the 63 the Buffalo Braves scored in 1972 that remain the franchise low for points in a game.

George finished with 15 points in 24 minutes, with four assists and two rebounds. He scored the game’s first basket, freezing his defender in front of the Clippers’ bench before rising for a 19-foot jumper. But it would be the Clippers’ only lead and it lasted all of 17 seconds. On the Clippers’ fourth possession, Leonard threw a pass that was intercepted and turned into a jumper by Josh Richardson. Three possessions later, George’s second turnover became a layup by Doncic.

George, who had averaged 28 points over his first two games, shouldered the scoring load for much of the first quarter as the Clippers made only five of their first 22 shots.

In Leonard’s place the Clippers started Luke Kennard, who scored seven points with two rebounds in 29 minutes. The Clippers host Minnesota on Tuesday and Portland the following day before leaving for a brief road trip at Utah on Friday and Phoenix on Sunday. Leonard’s availability for the upcoming slate remains unclear.

Clippers coach Ty Lue didn’t provide a potential timetable for Leonard’s return when asked before tipoff Sunday.

“Hopefully he’s fine, I’m not sure yet,” Lue said.

Two hours before tipoff Sunday, Leonard watched teammates warm up from the baseline inside Staples Center, a ball under one arm, but did not take part himself before leaving the court. He returned to bench in a warmup track suit. During one timeout during the first half, Leonard stood in front of teammates, appearing to address them. Nothing he could say, however, could change the numbers on the box score.