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Column: Danilo Gallinari’s shooting woes could not come at a worse time for the Clippers

LOS ANGELES, CA, SUNDAY, APRIL 21, 2019 - Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari battles Warriors center
Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari gets caught between Warriors center Kevon Looney (5) and Draymond Green, left, while battling for a rebound during the first half of Game 4.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

This was the basketball equivalent of Donald Trump claiming the Mueller Report exonerated him of obstructing justice.

“I think I’ve been playing great,” Danilo Gallinari said.

Pardon?

Gallinari explained, “It’s just the shot,” which was like saying the Titanic crashing into an iceberg was “just an accident.”

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He was the primary reason the Clippers were unable to take advantage of an off game by Stephen Curry on Sunday in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series. With Gallinari missing his first eight shots and finishing five of 20 overall from the field, the Clippers moved to the doorstep of elimination with a 113-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center.

In short, it was more of the same for Gallinari, who was the Clippers’ best player for significant parts of this season.

He was four-for-15 shooting in Game 1 and two for 13 in Game 3. He was eight of 17 from the field in Game 2 which, coincidentally or not, was the only game the Clippers have won this series.

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“The percentages are not that good, but all the small things that I need to win the games that you guys don’t see, I’ve been doing all of that,” Gallinari said.

Such as?

“Being in the right spot defensively, being aggressively defensively, switching up on everybody, playing defense from one to five, being a helper, being a one-on-one defender, rebounding the ball,” he said. “You want me to keep going?”

So at least Gallinari remained defiant.

The problem, of course, is that the Clippers count on him to score and to do so efficiently. Gallinari averaged 19.8 points per game in the regular season while making 46.3% of his field goals.

In the days leading up to the Game 4, coach Doc Rivers said Gallinari would have to play better for the Clippers to have any chance to upset the Warriors. Rivers was right.

Gallinari misfired on all six of his shots in the first quarter, after which the Clippers were down 32-22. He missed from close and he missed from far, failing to convert everything from layups to open three-pointers.

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His first points were scored on free throws with 2 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the first half. His only field goal of the first half was a dunk in the open court, after Patrick Beverley intercepted an errant pass by Kevin Durant.

“We know what a huge factor and key Gallinari is for them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “So we’re doing our best to try and pressure and stay in front and really challenge every shot. When he has big games, the Clippers generally win so he’s a real key for them.”

The Clippers closed to within 58-54 in the final minute of the half, only for Gallinari to foul Durant on a made three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left. The Warriors went into the intermission with a 62-54 advantage.

“It was a big play,” Rivers conceded.

Gallinari’s finest moment came with 3:57 left in the third quarter, when he passed on an open shot at the top of the key to feed Montrezl Harrell under the basket for an uncontested dunk. The Clippers were ahead 82-77 at that point.

But Gallinari contributed to the Warriors’ surge that followed, as a traveling call against him set up a three-pointer by Andre Iguodala that tied the score 82-82. The Clippers never led again.

Gallinari finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.

“They’ve been playing very good defense on me,” Gallinari said. “But it’s a little bit of me, too.”

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What magnified his latest postseason nightmare was that leading scorer Lou Williams also had problems making shots. Williams scored 12 points on two-for-10 shooting. Not even a 25-point outburst by rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could save the Clippers.

A 43.3% three-point shooter in the regular season, Gallinari made only one of five shots from behind the arc. As shaken as he appeared at times, he continued shooting.

“I’m a confident guy,” he said. “This is my 11th year in the league. Confidence is definitely not a problem. I’ll work on it and hopefully I’ll shoot better next game.”

He’d better. If he doesn’t, he won’t play again until next season.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter@dylanohernandez


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