What happened to the deadeye Clippers? Team doomed by missed shots vs. Knicks
After a fan pulled from the crowd Sunday missed every shot in a midcourt Skee-Ball promotion, another stepped onto Crypto.com Arena’s court to test his luck in a three-point-shooting contest.
As every shot missed for him, too, injured Clippers star Paul George leaned back and forth during a timeout as if trying to will the ball to go in, each misfire producing either a wince or smile.
While never leading and trailing by as many as 32 points, they missed from all distances — from a dunk, to shooting 43% in the paint and 32% from beyond the arc.
Reggie Jackson scored a season-high 36 points to power the Clippers to a 132-111 rout over the Lakers on Thursday at Crypto.com Arena.
And they missed in all manners. A three-point shot by Robert Covington circled the rim twice before spinning out. Another three by Terance Mann banked too hard off the backboard. Isaiah Hartenstein’s one-handed floater in the fourth quarter didn’t touch iron at all.
Three days after the Clippers’ dead-eye accuracy against the Lakers marked one extreme — their 63% three-point shooting their best against the Lakers since 1994 — Sunday’s revealed the other in stark contrast. The Clippers needed six minutes and 14 attempts to make their first shot of the second quarter.
But their most consequential miss wasn’t one shot but felt over the course of four minutes. With a 26-point deficit cut to just 12 entering the fourth quarter and another comeback seemingly in the offing, the Clippers didn’t score from the time 43 seconds remained in the third quarter until 8:31 was left in the fourth — a span in which the Knicks’ lead was back to a healthy 22, leading Clippers coach Tyronn Lue to insert rarely used reserves.
And just like that, against a Knicks team that has gone 2-0 against the Clippers since Jan. 17 and 2-17 against everybody else, the Clippers’ five-game winning streak was over.
“I thought we had a chance,” said Lue, who repeated over and over how much more physical the Knicks were while being outrebounded by 14 and giving up 19 second-chance points after allowing 15 offensive rebounds. “Just got to turn the page. It was a bad game for us.”
With catching Denver and the sixth seed in the West highly improbable — the Nuggets are five games ahead with 16 games to play — together with the Lakers 4½ games behind them in ninth place, the Clippers (34-32) are somewhat insulated from such a “bad game.”
Mann, who scored 11 points to finish as one of only two starters in double figures, acknowledged as much afterward, indicating the Clippers are nearly locked into either seventh or eighth, with the only difference between the two home-court advantage in a play-in game.
But Mann also noted the obvious, that the Clippers are far from a perfect team and that they aren’t immune from nights when physicality is as absent as their jumpers.
If anything, Sunday was a cautionary tale for Tuesday’s matchup in Golden State against a Warriors team desperate for a win after losses in eight of their last 10 games.
“I’m not going to say I’m glad this happened, but it can definitely help us in the next one,” Mann said.
Amir Coffey scored 16 points off the bench to lead the Clippers, who also got 14 points from Hartenstein. Reggie Jackson scored 10 points but missed all eight of his three-point tries, a jarring result when compared to his 36-point masterpiece only three days earlier against the Lakers.
Just as the Knicks grabbed 12 more rebounds and saw RJ Barrett score 28 points in their victory against the Clippers in January, Barrett dropped 24 points and the Knicks’ size, led by center Mitchell Robinson, caused problems again.
Before tipoff, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau praised Lue, a former assistant of his in Boston when Lue helped the Celtics’ defensive architect study video, with molding a gritty Clippers (34-32) team.
“The only way you replace [George, Kawhi Leonard and Norman Powell] is with your togetherness, it’s your team defense,” Thibodeau said. “... Ty’s kept it together.”
After seeking professional help to emerge from a dark period in his life and career, Clippers forward Robert Covington doesn’t mind sharing his story.
Since Feb. 12, the Clippers first’ game with all three of Powell, Leonard and George on the injury report, the Clippers had owned the NBA’s stingiest defensive rating, at only 104 points per 100 possessions allowed.
But the Knicks (26-38) could not be boxed out by smaller Clippers lineups, and despite Julius Randle making only four of his 16 shots for 10 points, Immanuel Quickly scored 19 points off the bench to bolster Barrett, who scored 16 second-quarter points.
After outscoring Houston and the Lakers by a combined 37 points in the third quarters of their last two wins, the Clippers left halftime Sunday with no such juice, a 10-2 New York run pushing its lead to 26 four minutes into the quarter.
The Clippers’ third-quarter surge to trim their deficit to 12 looked familiar, their push powered by scoring nine points off of turnovers and the work of a hard-charging bench. But that energy was the exception, not the rule.
“They looked like they wanted it more,” Coffey said.
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