December 4, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Paul George-less Clippers let game slip away to Wizards

For a moment during Thursday’s second quarter, it looked as though the Clippers were about to make any more handwringing over their crunch-time efficiency moot.

Coming off of two losses in which their offense stalled in the fourth quarter’s final minutes, the Clippers were not leaving their matchup against Washington to chance. Despite foul trouble for Kawhi Leonard, dizziness that sidelined Paul George right before tipoff and a hail of turnovers, the Clippers led by 16 points with 78 seconds remaining in the first half.

But this would be no easy saunter into the NBA’s All-Star break.

After the Clippers took their 16-point lead, the Wizards went on a 21-2 run lasting into the third quarter, a five-minute stretch that in a back-and-forth second half that ended in the same fashion as the first — Washington unable to be stopped, the Clippers unable to score en route to a 119-117 Clippers defeat.

Leading 106-102 with 4 minutes, 23 seconds to play, the Clippers ceded an 11-0 run over the next three minutes.

A three-pointer by Leonard cut their deficit to one point with 14 seconds left, and after free throws by Washington’s Bradley Beal and Clippers center Ivica Zubac drew the Clippers within one again with seven seconds left, Wizards forward Rui Hachimura stepped to the free-throw line.

He made the first, then missed the second — only for the rebound to be grabbed by Beal, who dribbled out the clock

The defeat is the Clippers’ third consecutive to end the season’s first half, the first time this season the Clippers have lost three straight, and each featured the strikingly similar finish of seeing a hard-won lead disappear.

Before tipoff, coach Tyronn Lue said he planned to spend his next four or five days taking a break from basketball, with the exception of some film study. The tape of his team’s fourth quarters against Milwaukee, Boston and Washington would disrupt any coach’s plans for relaxation.

Beal scored 33 points to lead the Wizards (14-20) and Russell Westbrook added 27.

Leonard scored 22 points, Patrick Beverley added 17 and Lou Williams had 16 for the Clippers (24-14), who made 45% of their three-pointers but turned the ball over 19 times for 27 Washington points.

Just as Leonard had warmed up Tuesday in Boston before being ruled out just minutes before tipoff because of back spasms, George warmed up inside Capital One Arena but, after experiencing what the team described as dizziness, was ruled a late scratch.

When Leonard went to the bench fewer than five minutes into the first quarter after drawing his second foul, the Clippers played the rest of the quarter without their two leading scorers against the league’s seventh-best defense over the last 10 games. The results weren’t pretty. Washington immediately scored the next six points. By quarter’s end, Washington had converted eight Clippers turnovers into 12 points to lead by three.

Considering the dearth of offensive options, the re-emergence of Luke Kennard couldn’t have come at a more necessary time. Leapfrogged in the nine-man rotation by Terance Mann in the last three weeks, Kennard scored 14 points, his highest output since Jan. 17, threw a no-look assist to Zubac for a dunk and played with the type of aggression the team has pleaded to see from him from this season’s start.

Wanting to avoid a three-game losing streak entering the break, George had termed Thursday’s matchup a “must win” Tuesday, shortly after the team’s fourth-quarter offense flamed out in a second consecutive loss. The Clippers had scored one field goal in the last 2:43 against Boston. One game earlier, they hadn’t scored at all in the final four minutes against Milwaukee.

The Clippers had offered various solutions after each game. They needed to play faster on offense, and yet couldn’t rush their shots. George, Leonard and Lue met for an hour and a half Wednesday “just going over different scenarios and situations, what they like, what they didn’t like, good shot, bad shot, and just where they want the ball on the floor, and the spacing,” Lue said. “We’re working.”

That work continues.