Clippers look like a different team in blowing out Bucks for sixth straight win
For the Clippers, Monday wasn’t just a win. It felt like a closed circle.
One month after the Clippers failed to score during the final four minutes of a loss at Milwaukee, which began a three-game losing streak they took into the All-Star break surrounded by questions about their clutch performances, a blitz of fourth-quarter offense allowed the Clippers to put Monday’s win — their sixth straight — out of reach long before the final minutes.
Playing without Paul George, who was a late scratch because of a sore right foot, and also down starting center Serge Ibaka and Patrick Beverley, the Clippers made five of their first 16 three-point tries to fall behind by 12 in the first half before making 14 of 18 after halftime en route to a 129-105 rout of the Bucks.
Marcus Morris scored 25 points, Kawhi Leonard added 23 and Luke Kennard — who started in place of George — had 21, including a fourth-quarter stretch in which he made four consecutive three-pointers. Reggie Jackson added 20 points to help blow out one of the East’s best teams.
“You can see all of the things coming together,” coach Tyronn Lue said.
Terance Mann has developed into a talented attacker in the paint for the Clippers, and that could pair well with what Rajon Rondo brings to the team.
1. Guarding Giannis
The Clippers gave two-time most valuable player Giannis Antetokounmpo any shot beyond 16 feet that he wanted and he made them pay early with a pair of three-pointers while center Ivica Zubac purposely sagged off.
That strategy ultimately paid off, however. Antetokounmpo finished with 32 points and scored six of his 10 field goals inside the paint, but also missed five shots within 10 feet. Controlling his ability to dominate the paint was a big factor in how the NBA’s highest-scoring offense scored 14 fewer points than its season average.
“To do the job we did tonight was really good to see,” Lue said. “I thought Zu did a terrific job on Giannis.”
Said Leonard: “That’s just a great defensive effort.”
2. Versatile Batum
The Nicolas Batum now playing for the Clippers isn’t the same one who started the season. His role has become smaller since going to the bench March 15, to make room for Morris in the starting lineup, and he’s no longer burying three-pointers at a 47% clip as he had during his first month. But Batum still is finding ways to impact games.
Against Milwaukee, that looked like a second-half block in which he chased down Donte DiVincenzo the length of the court before denying a fastbreak layup at the rim. Within minutes, he’d tipped in a missed shot for a dunk. With just more than three minutes left and the Clippers up 20, he ended whatever suspense was left by stealing Jrue Holiday’s pass in the backcourt. Batum ended with eight points and seven rebounds.
“Doing the little things, the things that don’t show up in the stat sheet,” Leonard said. “He’s been great.”
3. No Rondo debut
New point guard Rajon Rondo has yet to make his Clippers debut because of adductor soreness but has practiced with the younger players since arriving Saturday in order to get a jump on learning the playbook, Lue said.
“He’s pretty much picked up the things we put in already,” Lue said.
‘He’s like a savant,’ Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, said of guard Rajon Rondo, who was added before the trade deadline.
Wearing a Clippers warmup, Rondo pulled aside Terance Mann and Kennard for brief chats after one first-half timeout. During other breaks he stood over Lue’s shoulder as the coach drew up plays in huddles. He also fist-bumped teammates as they walked out for the opening tip.
“His basketball IQ is probably the highest from a guy I’ve played with and the way he sees the game is different and I just remember that I liked to play with him a lot,” said Zubac, who overlapped with Rondo on the Lakers two seasons ago.
4. Rotation questions
When Rondo does play and Beverley returns from a knee injury that cost him a ninth consecutive game, one of the key decisions facing Lue is deciding which guards play, and in what combinations, during the postseason.
Team president Lawrence Frank acknowledged that Rondo, at 35, likely won’t be averaging 35 minutes per night, but barring a continuation of his career-low averages in Atlanta this season, he’ll have a postseason role in the rotation, given the Clippers acquired him for the expressed purpose of staying cool amid high-stress postseason scenarios.
When healthy, Beverley is the team’s emotional engine and best on-court communicator. Kennard (47% on three-pointers), Jackson (who pushes the pace of one of the league’s slowest teams) and Mann (a budding threat on both ends) are all displaying season-high levels of confidence and efficiency in recent weeks. Those three continued to make their cases against Milwaukee.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Lue said. “It’s just something I got to figure out. I’ve been thinking about it.”
5. Crowds coming
For the first time this season, a small number of guests watched Monday’s game from the lower bowl after the Clippers said they received permission from Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health to host an audience no larger than 50 per home game. The county has given similar permission to the Lakers, who admitted non-team personnel for the first time March 25.
“We will continue working with the county and the NBA towards our goal of having Clippers games open to fans at Staples Center,” the Clippers said in a statement.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 1150, 1330.
Update: The Magic were led by Dwayne Bacon’s 26 points in Sunday’s loss to the Lakers. Orlando (15-31) has lost its last two games and is 5-16 on the road.
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