Paul George picks up slack for Kawhi Leonard: Takeaways from Clippers’ win over Suns
The Clippers are 5-2 after Sunday’s 112-107 win in Phoenix, handing the Suns (5-2) their first loss since Dec. 26.
Five takeaways from a victory that featured a 31-point Clippers lead, a nail-biting finish, a performance that jumped off the box score, and another whose influence wasn’t so obvious:
1. Paul George joined an exclusive Clippers club.
Only two Clippers, J.J. Redick and Lou Williams, had scored at least 39 points while making at least seven three-pointers before George did it against Phoenix. He also became only the fifth player since the start of the 2019-20 season to score at least 39 points while attempting only two or fewer free throws, joining Portland’s C.J. McCollum, the Lakers’ LeBron James, Sacramento’s Buddy Hield, Chicago’s Zach LaVine and San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge.
It was all the more important because Kawhi Leonard made four of his 21 shots. In his last two games, Leonard is shooting 12 of 40.
Seven Clippers support staff members, but no players, returned to L.A. during their current trip to begin a seven-day quarantine after a positive test.
“It is not going to be everybody’s night every night,” George said. “I had to step up and help our best player on the team, help Kawhi. My job is to help him lead and help score and just give him a break from time to time.”
2. Unlike George, guard Patrick Beverley has not filled up the stat sheet offensively. But that hasn’t taken away from his impact.
The Clippers outscored opponents by 17.5 points when Beverley was on the court during the two-game trip. Conversely, they were outscored by 17.4 points when he sat. That 34.9-point difference is 11 points better than any other Clipper. Beverley scored 13 total points against Utah and Phoenix but made contributions elsewhere. According to league tracking data, he guarded Phoenix’s duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker for a combined 24 possessions over six minutes Sunday and allowed them to score two points directly off those matchups.
3. Slippage is still an issue.
Just as during wins against the Lakers and Denver, the Clippers couldn’t sustain a double-digit lead and it nearly cost them the victory. A lineup of Leonard, Beverley, Luke Kennard, Nicolas Batum and Serge Ibaka was outscored by seven points in four minutes together in the second quarter, as a 31-point lead was cut to 20 at halftime.
In the second half, the Clippers shot 42%, including 77% (7 of 9) from deep, and turned the ball over only four times yet still were outscored by 15 because Phoenix’s small-ball lineup with Dario Saric at center continually broke down a defense that was playing a step behind and fouled too often. Phoenix averaged fewer than 17 free throws per game entering Sunday; against the Clippers, they took 21 free throws in the second half alone.
“We’re gonna learn from it, we were up 30, we blew the lead but at least we find a way, and I believe it will be huge for us in the future because we all know what happened a couple months ago,” Batum said, referencing his team’s blown 3-1 lead in the playoffs. “I think it’s good for us to win a game like that — I actually love it. It’s weird, actually, to say that, but I love the fact that we won the game that way.”
Spurs assistant Becky Hammon was prepared when she became the first woman to serve as an NBA head coach after Gregg Popovich was ejected against L.A.
4. Leonard didn’t wear his protective mask to start the game, but it wasn’t on purpose.
Though Leonard has made no secret that he cannot wait to stop wearing a mask he has found difficult to breathe in, he didn’t play mask-free for the opening possessions Sunday in an attempt to ditch the device.
“We just didn’t have it out there at the time,” Leonard said. “Later on in the first quarter probably about a minute left I was able to get the mask back. I was just waiting for one of the staff to get it for me.”
5. There is still no timetable for the return of Marcus Morris.
Morris’ sore knee has kept him from appearing in any games since signing a four-year contract worth $64 million, and there is no indication yet when he will make his season debut.
Morris has had “a lot of progress and hopefully we will see him soon,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said before tipoff. “But I can’t give you a day or date.”
The Clippers next play Tuesday against San Antonio at Staples Center.
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