Clippers try to rally late but fall short in loss to Warriors
Kawhi Leonard was back on an NBA court Tuesday, jogging between shots, flicking the ball with his right wrist with ease.
In pregame warmups.
Two hours before tipoff in San Francisco’s Chase Center, the All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP who hasn’t played a game since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee June 14 caught passes from a team staffer and fired three-pointers as part of a workout that produced snippets of video that pinged around the internet, leading Clippers fans to again do the math.
Leonard underwent surgery not quite eight months ago, about one month before athletes with his injury generally return to playing. The postseason begins in five weeks.
Reticent all season to discuss the prognosis or progress of his injured headliners Leonard, Paul George and Norman Powell, coach Tyronn Lue offered no update on what Leonard’s shooting meant for his probability to return, though he did say Leonard has yet to be cleared to play against contact.
None of those three have been publicly ruled out for a return this season. But the cavalry also isn’t coming — not yet, anyway. And while the Clippers have gutted through most of the season without their stars, it was not the case in a 112-97 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Since winning two emotionally charged games against the Lakers and three against overmatched, youthful Houston, the Clippers have lost two straight and looked flat for six of their last eight quarters.
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“At least [the] defense was decent, but when we stopped, like in the second quarter, we had no physicality,” said forward Nicolas Batum, whose 17 points marked a team high and his most in three weeks. “We didn’t touch them. We don’t really fight.
“If you want to win — we know we’re short-handed — we miss guys, but we got to play the right way. We can’t stop playing the right way. And I don’t think we have done [that] the last two games.”
Outside of Sunday’s third quarter that cut their deficit to the Knicks from 26-12, and Tuesday’s fourth, when reserves trimmed a once-29-point Warriors lead to 11, they have been unable to match the desperate energy of skidding New York, on Sunday, and Golden State (44-22).
Along with the return of the often minutes-long scoring droughts that have plagued this offense since George’s December injury — three minutes remained in the first half when the Clippers (34-33) broke 30 points — Tuesday was a reminder of just how much for the Clippers precariously rests on point guard Reggie Jackson igniting the offense. Jackson made two of his 14 shots for five points and didn’t reach the free-throw line for the first time in six games.
Though the Clippers’ surge since the Feb.10 trade deadline was spurred by contributions from up and down the roster, Jackson has always shouldered the heaviest scoring burden while shooting 39% for the season.
The Clippers are now 13-21 when he has shot worse than his season average, a reflection of a short-handed roster’s struggle to compensate for yet another scoring loss.
The Clippers shot 35% overall and 30% from deep.
In the rout, the Warriors, just 14-14 since defensive catalyst Draymond Green injured his back in early January, didn’t even need their well-rested shooting stars, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, to have out-of-body experiences. Thompson scored 20 points but made nine of his 23 shots. Curry was held to 15 points, making just one of his six three-point attempts.
Coming off a hot-shooting game vs. the Lakers, the Clippers don’t discriminate when it comes to the type of shots they miss in a 116-93 loss to the Knicks.
It was sixth man Jordan Poole, who scored 13 of his 20 points during a second quarter in which the Warriors turned a tie score into an 18-point halftime lead, with two of his baskets allowed by defensive miscommunications.
It was Andrew Wiggins, with 14 points and 11 rebounds, who drew a charge on Marcus Morris Sr., grabbed a defensive rebound and followed with a layup of his own all within the first two minutes of the second half to push the lead to 24.
And it was a defense that made the area around the basket inhospitable. After shooting 75% in the paint during a Valentine’s Day win against Golden State, the Clippers shot 57% there Tuesday, including just four for 18 in the first half.
“They did a good job of just taking away the paint so we couldn’t get downhill and taking away our attacks early, taking away our early attacks,” Lue said. “Just offensively we didn’t play the right way. We didn’t share the basketball. Took some bad shots.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal; Radio: 570, 1220.
Update: When the Wizards (29-34) collapsed amid a 35-point Clippers comeback in January, the loss was part of a six-game skid. Since it ended, the Wizards are 5-7 to stay within range of capturing the 10th and final play-in tournament seed. Since the All-Star break, Kyle Kuzma has averaged 27.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists while making 41.2% of his three-point attempts in his last five games.
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