Paul George-less Clippers have trouble finding rhythm in loss to Kings

Sacramento Kings forward Chimezie Metu drives on Clippers center Serge Ibaka.
Sacramento Kings forward Chimezie Metu drives on Clippers center Serge Ibaka on Wednesday at Staples Center.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Less than 24 hours after Sacramento proved so powerless at holding onto a double-digit lead against the LeBron James-less Lakers that Kings interim coach Alvin Gentry actually apologized to the team’s fans, saying they “deserve better,” the coach was not about to let the same mistake happen again.

Against all odds from what had transpired for the previous two hours, a Clippers lineup featuring reserves and G Leaguers had pushed back to cut a 25-point Kings lead to 14 with eight minutes to play Wednesday at Staples Center.

Gentry was bothered enough to reinsert starters Richaun Holmes, Tyrese Haliburton and Terence Davis who, less than a minute later, had seemingly restored order. After a bobbled dribble by Clippers guard Luke Kennard became a De’Aaron Fox dunk, and the lead was back to 18, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue called a resigned timeout. The basket pushed the Kings’ advantage in fast-break points to 20-4.


Clippers star Paul George, sitting out to rest after tweaking an ankle Sunday, his first missed game this season, sat with arms crossed during the timeout. Teammate Serge Ibaka held his facemask.

But the Clippers of Keon Johnson, Jay Scrubb and Terance Mann were not done, reminiscent of the short-handed nights last season when the Clippers fought and found ways to win “because the guys that stepped on the floor, they always played hard,” coach Tyronn Lue said. A 22-point lead with less than five minutes to play was eight three minutes later and the rally wasn’t stifled until Kings free throws in the final minute secured a 124-115 Sacramento win.

The Clippers couldn’t find any answers against the New Orleans Pelicans and Jonas Valanciunas’ hot shooting in the 122-104 loss on Monday at Staples Center.

Nov. 29, 2021

The late-game rally was entertaining. That it was necessary was perhaps predictable, on a night when the Clippers’ best players were either on the bench in street clothes — George and Kawhi Leonard — or at home, in the case of Nicolas Batum, in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, but nonetheless indicative of a rough patch that is into its third week.

The loss was their seventh in 10 games, and help isn’t arriving in full ahead of Friday’s game against the Lakers. Though George, who had played 35.5 minutes in his first 21 games, will play Friday, Batum will not be back in time, Lue said. Batum, credited as the glue of the Clippers’ seven-game win streak to start November “feels better,” Lue said, but will miss his seventh consecutive game.

Kennard and Mann each scored 19 points for the Clippers (11-11).

The Kings (9-14) ended the first quarter on a 17-2 run. They ripped off a 12-2 run in the second. And, perhaps most distressing, they began the third with eight unanswered points against a starting lineup sans George but still featuring numerous veterans.

“Got off to a real slow start,” Lue said. “They played real faster than we were, flying around. We couldn’t keep up in that third quarter.”

Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox drives against Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe.
Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox drives against Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe at the Staples Center on Wednesday.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Fox scored 24 points, Davis scored 23 and Davion Mitchell had 20 for the Kings (9-14), who shot 52% from the field and made 15 three-pointers.

“I feel like we started soft,” said center Ivica Zubac, who had 17 points and seven rebounds. “Our game plan was to go under on most of the guys [screens], but I feel like we did it softly and should have been more aggressive and just let them get into their practice shots.”

Lue described himself as pleased with the team’s 35 assists on 47 baskets, the way they heeded his pregame directive to drive into the paint and the comparatively low 13 turnovers.

But he didn’t know how he felt about his dual-center starting lineup featuring Zubac and Serge Ibaka, the first time they’d played together this season after playing only six possessions all of last season.

Having not played power forward for four seasons, Ibaka has now been in the role in a dual-center lineup twice in the past four games.


“I think we can do it,” Zubac said.

The size was deployed in part to stop what George has called the team’s season-long “kryptonite.” Knowing the Clippers are among the league’s worst at scoring in transition, opponents don’t fear their fast breaks and are instead committing extra rebounders to the offensive glass, George said. It has worked: The Clippers rank in the league’s bottom third in offensive rebounds allowed.

Tyronn Lue knew how he wanted to attack the Golden State Warriors’ top players, but he didn’t count on the Clippers committing 25 turnovers.

Nov. 29, 2021

But it wasn’t the Kings’ five offensive boards that in a quarter and a half built a 20-point first-half lead. Predictably, a starting lineup that lacked George also lacked offensive pop.

Despite taking seven more shots by halftime, the Clippers made the same number as the Kings. Yet they’d cut that deficit to 10 at the half in part behind 11 points in 14 first-half minutes by rookie wing Brandon Boston Jr.

The rookie beloved within the Clippers because of his fearless confidence in scoring on anyone — an approach that helped him score 46 points in a G League game Monday — scored 13 points in 24 minutes but played sparingly amid the comeback because of a minutes limit, Lue said.