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Clippers have no answer for De’Aaron Fox in loss to Kings

Serge Ibaka reaches to block a shot by De'Aaron Fox.
Clippers center Serge Ibaka tries to block a shot by Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox during the Clippers’ 113-110 loss Sunday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

With the injured Patrick Beverley and Paul George unable to roam the perimeter, swiping dribbles and cutting off driving lanes, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue has reiterated in recent days that his team’s defense, down two of its best, needed to accept the challenge of guarding tougher in one-on-one situations.

As the Clippers were reminded Sunday, there might be no greater challenge in the NBA than staying in front of Sacramento guard De’Aaron Fox, whom Lue called before tipoff “probably the fastest guy in the league right now.”

Two hours later, after Fox dropped 36 points during the Kings’ 113-110 victory at Staples Center, his ranking was “not a question,” said Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, who has seen hundreds of guards during his 10-year career.

“That man’s moving at Bugatti speed, honestly,” Jackson said.

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In becoming the fifth consecutive opposing guard to score at least 24 points against the Clippers’ depleted perimeter defense, Fox hit another gear in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 points.

Kawhi Leonard criticized the decision to hold the All-Star game, saying he isn’t surprised the NBA is planning to play the game amid the coronavirus outbreak.

When the Clippers took a two-point lead with 5 minutes, 44 seconds remaining, Fox ensured it would be their last. Within the next 90 seconds he drilled a pair of three-pointers in front of the Clippers’ bench. Two minutes after that, he’d bolted to the rim for two layups. With 31 seconds remaining and the Kings up by one, Fox’s drive forced a second Clippers defender to pull away from Sacramento center Richaun Holmes under the basket, and in a split-second decision, Fox dumped off an assist for a dunk and three-point lead.

For a Clippers defense that ranks second-worst in the NBA in stopping pick-and-roll ballhandlers — a trend that is all the more difficult to stop as long as Beverley and George remain out — it was a nightmare matchup.

“One second you take your eyes off the ball, he might be out for getting a layup or a dunk,” said Clippers center Ivica Zubac, who had 12 points and 14 rebounds off the bench.

Fittingly, for the player who seemed to be everywhere when it mattered most, it was Fox who collected the game-sealing defensive rebound with 11 seconds remaining after Nicolas Batum’s potential tying shot from the right corner rattled in and out.

“I just thought he was able to attack us all night, no matter the matchup, and he was able to get into the paint and cause havoc,” Lue said.

The havoc led Sacramento (12-11) to its second win in over a Western Conference contender in 22 hours, its first win against the Clippers this season in three tries and marked the first time the Clippers (17-8) have lost consecutive games this season.

Highlights from the Clippers’ 113-110 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday.

Lou Williams scored a team-high 23 points off the bench as Clippers reserves outscored the starters, 57-53. Kawhi Leonard finished with 20 points after making nine of his 21 shots. Every Clippers starter registered a negative plus-minus, and it was apparent how much the team, playing its 11th game in 19 days, missed George and Beverley.

“We’d just love to have our whole team, but with a guy like Fox, you’re gonna need to throw different bodies at him and I just thought Kawhi was a little worn down to really put him on him for the whole [game],” Lue said. “He had a great game, hat’s off to him.”

Fox was able to finish off the Clippers because Sacramento had managed to avoid the kind of defensive meltdown after halftime that were the hallmarks of their two previous losses to the Clippers, when they were outscored by an average of 18 points per third quarter.

Leonard finished the Clippers’ first possession of Sunday’s third quarter with a baseline drive and a twisting layup. The second ended with an offensive rebound and a mismatch, as guard Luke Kennard drove past Holmes for another layup. Just 51 seconds into the second half, his team’s three-point halftime lead now a one-point hole, Kings coach Luke Walton burned a timeout, having seen this scene before; by efficiency, the Clippers have been the league’s best third-quarter team.

Though the Clippers won the quarter by four points by closing on a 16-6 run, they couldn’t create enough distance. Leonard also went nearly five minutes without a shot attempt in the quarter, a stretch that saw the Clippers trail by as many as nine points after Sacramento’s Buddy Hield — unchecked by the potential defense of George — got hot, scoring eight of his 22 points.

Yet the roots of this loss began much earlier, as the Clippers repeatedly missed point-blank shots. In the first quarter the Clippers made six of their 20 shots inside the paint; meanwhile, all 22 of Sacramento’s points originated there.

And it was there where Fox so often found himself with the ball in his hands as the game went on, slashing his way to 24 paint points on 70% shooting. He has scored at least 24 points in eight of his last 10 games. It’s not just his speed that make him a difficult cover, Jackson said, but his handle and quickness changing direction mid-drive.

“Everybody on the court, all five, have to be ready to load up and try to find a way to stop him,” he said. “Unfortunately we didn’t.”


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