Even in an upcoming summer when free agency will be loaded with stars, Charlotte guard Kemba Walker will be a top target for many teams.
Count the Clippers among those prepared to line up to court the guard. Tuesday night, they went after him in a different way.
The Clippers made Walker the top target of their defense and left the 6-foot-1 scorer frustrated during a 128-109 victory at Staples Center that was the Clippers’ third consecutive.
Walker made one of six three-pointers, six of 18 field goals, attempted zero free throws and finished with 13 points, 12 fewer than his season average.
“We trapped all night,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He warrants that, he’s just such a good player, so our thinking was just try to corral him. … He got loose a couple times, but overall what we were trying to do was just move the ball and get it out of his hands.”
Entering the game tied with the Clippers’ Lou Williams for most fourth-quarter points in the NBA, Walker scored zero in the final quarter. The timing couldn’t have been worse — the Clippers (24-16) scored 42 in the fourth, tying their most in any quarter this season, to outscore the Hornets (19-21) by 10.
“We were right there,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “It was a two-point game. We slipped up for two or three minutes in the fourth.”
On a night when the Hornets’ single bellwether star couldn’t find his rhythm, the Clippers’ bevy of scorers all found theirs.
Williams came alive in the fourth quarter, as advertised, scoring 14 of his game-high 27 points. He added 10 assists for the 13th double-double of his 14-year career.
“That’s just Lou being Lou,” Rivers said.
Three of Williams’ teammates also scored 20 or more: Tobias Harris and Montrezl Harrell each scored 23 and Danilo Gallinari had 20.
Point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t among the Clippers who piled up points. He scored eight in 21 minutes, but it was the points he didn’t allow that helped.
Asked in recent days by coaches to take full advantage of his nearly 7-foot wingspan defensively, Gilgeous-Alexander extended his arms into the path of four Hornets’ shots to finish with a career high in blocks. He is the first rookie since 1974-75, when blocks and steals were first tracked, to have at least four blocks and two steals while playing less than 22 minutes, according to the Clippers.
The Clippers blocked a season-high 11 shots.
In high school and college, “I didn’t always have to use my length and I could still get steals,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “At this level, the only way to disrupt them is length. I’m just focusing on using it.”
Gilgeous-Alexander felt he’d allowed Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb to be “too comfortable” in Lamb’s return after a three-game absence because of an injured hamstring. Lamb scored eight points in the first quarter and had 13 at halftime. In the second half, he added only three points.
“He got Lamb going and then I thought he got competitive and kind of stood back up and started defending,” Rivers said.
It was the second time in the last three games that the Clippers’ defense has been successful at limiting the effectiveness of an opponent’s star. Friday in Phoenix, it was Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, with the Clippers trapping Booker off of screens.
They didn’t attack Walker using the same blueprint, preferring to corral him in hopes of forcing passes. Outside of the second quarter, when Walker had seven points, he was nowhere near the star who terrorized Philadelphia and Boston during a two-game stretch in November for 103 combined points.