An off night for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George: Five takeaways from Clippers loss

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard handles the ball between Memphis Grizzlies' Brandon Clarke and Justise Winslow on Feb. 25.
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard handles the ball between Memphis Grizzlies’ Brandon Clarke, left, and Justise Winslow on Feb. 25.
(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)

Five takeaways from the Clippers’ 122-94 loss Thursday in Memphis, the first of two matchups against the Grizzlies in as many nights:

1. This was as ineffective as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the league’s fourth-highest scoring duo, have played together offensively this season. Leonard failed to score at least 20 points for the first time since Jan. 21, though he did make a number of correct reads to pass out of double-teams and finished with seven assists. George’s scoring output was his lowest since Jan. 24.

“They showed a crowd pretty much on me and PG the whole night,” Leonard said. “Sent the help. So we just got to make the right play. We always try to keep being aggressive.”


2. George said Clippers must apply more pressure on opposing ballhandlers, but the fact that Memphis turned the ball over only seven times — with guards Ja Morant and Tyus Jones responsible for zero — wasn’t surprising. The Clippers rank 21st in the frequency with which they force turnovers. That wouldn’t be so damaging if the Clippers could hold on to the ball, but in their last six games the Clippers have averaged 13.1 turnovers and their opponents just 8.5.

The Clippers filed a motion at Los Angeles County Superior Court last week to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Johnny Wilkes in December.

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Memphis committed seven turnovers Thursday, and the Clippers twice that amount.

Lineups featuring their three former all-defense selections — Leonard, George and Patrick Beverley — are performing about as expected this season. When those three play the Clippers turn the ball over on 12% of possessions while forcing turnovers on 17% of opponents’ possessions. But that hasn’t had a carryover effect for the rest of the team.

3. Serge Ibaka’s floor-spacing shooting — a core factor in his appeal as a free agent — had gradually disappeared in recent weeks, as the center made just 20% of his three-point shots in his last 10 games. Against Memphis, he was the Clippers’ lone positive by making three of his four three-pointers. It matched a season high and marked the first time he’d made three three-pointers in one game since Jan. 31.

4. After scoring 72 paint points Thursday the Grizzlies, whose 54.0 paint points this season are tied for the league’s lead, have scored at least 40 or more paint points in 76 consecutive games, the longest streak since the NBA began tracking the category 24 years ago. Still, the defensive back-breaker was the fact the Grizzlies’ hot shooting wasn’t confined to close to the rim. They made 11 of their 19 three-pointers.

The Clippers’ schedule for the second half of the NBA season includes high-profile matchups against the Lakers on April 4 and May 6.

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It will be interesting whether the Clippers attempt to be more aggressive defensively against some Grizzlies shooters or trust that the opponents who hurt them Thursday will revert to the mean. Will they continue to sag a center off Jonas Valanciunas, a 33% three-point shooter since arriving in Memphis three seasons ago, who made both his attempts? Will they again go under screens on pick-and-rolls with Tyus Jones, a 35% shooter for his career yet just a 24% shooter from deep this season? One of the two three-pointers he made came against just such a coverage.

That the Grizzlies got uncharacteristically hot from deep doesn’t absolve the Clippers of mistakes. Given how Jones had torched the Clippers in the second quarter, it wasn’t necessary for Reggie Jackson to leave him wide open beyond the arc in order to double team Brandon Clarke’s drive at the free-throw line late in the third quarter, with the Grizzlies nursing a nine-point lead. A kick-out pass led to three points from Jones.

And in the fourth quarter, with Memphis steal leading by nine, Marcus Morris allowed Kyle Anderson to cut from the corner in front of him and into the paint, forcing George to sprint over to help, leaving Dillon Brooks wide open in the corner, waiting for Anderson’s pass. Even a 31% three-point shooter like Brooks this season can knock down a shot that open.

On the same day Paul George was named an NBA All-Star, the Clippers star expressed reservations about playing the game amid the COVID-19 crisis.

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5. This was a fairly quiet night for Clippers reserve Lou Williams, who made four of his nine shots, scored nine points, and was minus-11 in 20 minutes, but he also deflected a team-high four passes. Williams has never been a lockdown defender, but he’s put forth effort on that end in his 16th season.