Takeaways from the Clippers’ win over the Timberwolves
1. Lou Williams scored 27 points against the Timberwolves, giving the Clippers the second scorer they have so badly needed since Paul George went out of the lineup three games ago after injuring his right foot. It was the most Williams had scored this season and during his last 33 games, dating to August’s first-round playoff series against Dallas.
Since averaging 9.1 points and shooting 37% in his first 20 games this season, Williams has averaged 20.7 points on 55% shooting in his last four.
Williams made “big shots in big moments” by making all four of his fourth-quarter attempts, said Kawhi Leonard, who finished with a game-high 36 points (including six-of-six shooting in the fourth, as well).
“I think his health, getting a rhythm, getting in a flow, kind of knowing what his plays are going to be now has kind of helped him out a lot,” coach Tyronn Lue said of his veteran guard. “And then coming into the game a little earlier has really kind of let him get going. We want to stay with that as much as we can. Some games are going to be a little different, for the most part we want to keep that same flow and momentum.
“Guys are going to double team, when guys are open, he has to make the right play and make guys better, which he has done a great job of this year. And then when he is open, he has got to shoot the basketball and score the ball and that is what we need him to do and he has gotten back to doing that lately.”
The Clippers turn things around in the second half to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 119-112 on Wednesday in Minneapolis.
2. Patrick Beverley’s defensive impact during his first game since Jan. 24 wasn’t obvious initially, as Minnesota shredded the Clippers en route to a 13-point first-half lead. But during his 18 minutes, he helped start to patch over some of the problems that had been apparent in recent games.
“You know with him and Paul out, it kills our defense tremendously, so just having one of them back helps our switching,” Leonard said. “He’s staying in front of guys, bringing his energy.”
Beverley’s absence created more work for his teammates beyond defense. Leonard has acknowledged that the team without Beverley is a quieter group by nature.
“He’s a part of the coaching staff when he does things like that, just holding guys accountable, telling guys when they’re messing up, and he’s great with that,” Lue said of Beverley.
For all of the texts Beverley sent to teammates while recovering from his knee injury in Los Angeles, it couldn’t compensate for actually being on the six-game trip he missed this month. Leonard felt a need to become more vocal.
“Kawhi’s been great with his voice this year,” Beverley said. “He’s been through it all. He’s won championships, so to hear him talk, it definitely comes out the right way, for sure.”
3. Beverley said his sore right knee, which led him to miss eight games, was “something that came up from my previous injury,” and that he “took care of it, nipped it in the bud and I want to get better from there.” But the obvious question is whether he can, in fact, stay healthy. Should the Clippers hold onto Beverley past the March 25 trade deadline, a lot rides on his availability.
The Clippers are 99-47 when he plays and 16-18 when he does not. The 32-year-old is coming off a season in which he missed three or more consecutive games five times, an experience that led him to put even more work into his body, Leonard said in January.
“I’d rather it happen now than playoffs,” Beverley said, when asked whether he was disappointed to miss more than two weeks considering his focus on his body. “It’s all about perspective.”
4. Two key lineup switches changed the outcome.
In the second quarter, the Clippers guarded Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns with forward Nicolas Batum in order to place center Serge Ibaka on 6-foot-4 Josh Okogie. Lue wanted to switch pick-and-rolls, primarily, and played Batum in front of Towns in the post, making entry passes harder.
“I thought our switching really made them stagnant, really hurt them,” Lue said.
Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, who has missed eight games with an injured right knee, traveled with the team to Minnesota and could soon return to the lineup.
In the fourth quarter, with the Clippers’ lead down to two points with just under nine minutes remaining and Minnesota big man Naz Reid pulling Ivica Zubac away from the basket with his shooting, Lue turned to Batum again as part of a small lineup surrounding forward-turned-center Marcus Morris. Within three minutes of Batum’s entrance, the Clippers unspooled a 13-3 run that created a path to victory.
Morris and Batum had played together just 8.8 minutes on average in 12 previous appearances. In this win, they overlapped for nearly 13 minutes — the Clippers were plus-seven in those minutes — including the final eight.
“I think it helped us just with switching,” Leonard said. “Keeping them in front of us, not letting their guards get downhill, and them missing shots, everyone was able to get a rebound and push the pace up the floor.”
5. The Clippers’ rim protection to start the game was lacking, and against a Timberwolves lineup featuring one player taller than 6-4 too. Minnesota made seven of its first 10 shots at the rim and grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the opening quarter, a result that was all the more surprising because the Clippers this season have grabbed a league-high percentage of defensive rebounds.
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