The Clippers faced the Lakers for the third time this season on Sunday afternoon. After winning the first two games of the season series, the Clippers were unable to rally late against a loaded Lakers Squad.
Clippers vs Lakers This Season
The first matchup between the LA squads came on the NBA’s opening night in October. This first game lived up to the hype as the Clippers, without swingman Paul George, were able to temporarily knock the King off his throne in LA. Kawhi Leonard started his season in style, scoring 30 points to out-dual LeBron James in a 112-102 Clippers victory.
Next was the Christmas Day Game. This would mark the first game of the entire season in which the Clippers entire 10-man rotation was available for action. The rematch was even more entertaining than the first game, as both star duos showed out on the biggest day of the regular season. Leonard and George combined for 52 points while James and running mate Anthony Davis combined for 47. The game came down to the final seconds as Patrick Beverley stripped the ball away from James on his potential game-tying three point attempt with under 10 seconds left to play.
Sunday marked the third meeting between the cross-town rivals, and this one would shape up much like the first two. The Clippers came into the game riding a six game winning streak inspired by their longest stretch of health all season. The Lakers on the other hand, came into Sunday’s contest fresh off of a big-time defeat of the first place team in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks, a game in which LeBron James won a hard fought battle with MVP front runner, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both teams were hot. Both teams were healthy. The stage was set for the show down.
Both teams battled hard with little to no separation through the entire first half. The Clippers lead by four points at the break, but lost and regained their lead several more times throughout the third quarter. The Lakers took a four point lead into the final period of play and never looked back. Despite being within six points late in the game, the Clippers were not able to overcome the deficit as the Lakers snapped their six game win streak by a score of 112-103.
Should This Loss Concern the Clippers?
Long story short: no. The Clippers should not panic over this regular season loss to the Lakers. For starters, it was just that. A regular season loss. Along with the lack of urgency of a regular season game, there were several other odd factors that contributed to how this game played out. Disclaimer: by no means am I saying the Clippers should have won the game or are hands down better than the Lakers. Nor am I making excuses for the Clippers losing. They weren’t able to adjust as the game went along, and they lost fair and square. Good teams are beatable, especially by other good teams. I am simple going to point out a few key aspects in this game that the Clippers can likely overcome in future matchups.
Free Throw Shooting
On the season, the Lakers shooting an abysmal 73% from the FT line, good for 28th in the league. This is in large part due to LeBron’s below average 70% FT shooting. This has been one of, if not the only, relevant knocks on LeBron’s game. He’s clearly top notch at every aspect of the game, but the charity stripe is the one thing that seems to give him the most issues. In the game against the Clippers on Sunday, the Lakers shot 86% as a team from the stripe. This includes a 12-14 shooting performance from James. Is this shooting sustainable? Only time will tell, but the rest of the season thus far points towards no, it’s likely not sustainable. Had the Lakers shot their season average from the FT line, the final score suddenly becomes a two possession game with no telling how many “what-ifs” in between.
Avery Bradley, a former Clipper, was traded to Memphis from JaMychal Green last season during the Clippers’ deadline hysteria that set them up for a run at both Leonard and George this offseason. Bradley was widely noted amongst Clippers fans as a pesky defender that played his heart out, but often hurt the team offensively more than his defense or motor could make up for. This season has not been much different for Bradley after he joined the team across the hall during the offseason. The Lakers biggest weakness has been finding playmaking when James is off the court, and Bradley has done nothing to help that cause. His season average before Sunday was only eight points per game.
In the matchup against his former LA team however, Bradley exploded for 24 points including six triples on 50% 3PT shooting, because of course he did. Combine Bradley’s 16 additional points with the four extra points the Lakers earned at the FT line, and all of a sudden the score changes to 103-92 Clippers.
Marcus Morris Sr.
Newly acquired Marcus Morris Sr. has brought several aspects to the Clippers’ championship aspirations. His mentality, career high shooting percentages, height, length, and motor have made him a welcome addition to the lineup. Before Sunday’s matchup, Morris had been in the process of finding his role and rhythm with his new team. After shooting 40% from deep for the Knicks earlier in the season, his average dropped to around 31% during his short stint with the Clippers thus far. While this shooting is not ideal, it is still serviceable enough to play Morris starter’s minutes. His 10.4 points per game, along with 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists, have been a huge plus during the Clippers recent win streak.
However, against the Lakers on Sunday, Morris shot a stunning 0-9 from the field including 0-7 from deep. He only scored one point on 50% FT shooting. This game was an anomaly from Morris’s stand point. Had Morris shot his usual 31% from long range, the Clippers would have benefited in the form of six to nine more points. Combining this unusual absence of scoring from the starting forward with the Lakers’ excellent free throw shooting and Bradley’s uncharacteristic outburst, the game could have easily been 109-92 Clippers.
Lou Williams down the Stretch
In a game that saw only three made field goals from Lou Williams (.273 FG%), Doc Rivers made the decision to keep Williams in the game down the stretch over Beverley for offensive purposes. For those of you who may have forgotten, the team also had Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris, and Montrezl Harrell on the court for offensive purposes. I see no reason why Beverley was not on the court to finish the game and, unfortunately, LeBron saw it too.
Possession after possession LeBron was involved in a pick-and-pop
with whoever Lou Will was guarding. This simple play allowed LeBron a mismatch
on the much smaller Williams, or it opened up a shooter in Danny Green or
Curry Avery Bradley for a three point attempt due to the help defense James
demands. We have to believe, and hope, that Beverley would have been in the
game late if this had been a playoff matchup, eliminating some easy buckets the
Lakers got late in the game.
Clippers Must Maintain Stride
Props to the Lakers on doing everything they needed to do to win this game. The Clippers had their struggles and the Lakers continued to find the hot hands to maintain their lead. There’s no point in making excuses for the Clippers’ loss, only focusing on aspects to improve moving forward. One huge take away from the game was Paul George’s scoring. In the teams’ last eight games, including their six game win streak, George had only eclipsed 20 points twice. He had shot a below average 40% from the field. On Sunday however, he managed to find his grove putting up 31 points on 56% shooting, including three triples on 43% shooting from distance. If this team can somehow combine the scoring prowess of George, Leonard, Williams, Morris, and Harrell at the same time, it’s not hard to see a clearer path to the Finals.
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