Frustrated Clippers are outworked in loss to Hawks to begin three-game trip
Marcus Morris Sr.’s foot moved. The whistle blew. And the words flew.
In disbelief he had been called for a pivot-foot traveling violation, and with frustration lingering from an earlier no-call, the Clippers’ starting forward ripped official Jason Goldenberg as Atlanta took possession with three minutes to play in Friday’s third quarter in State Farm Arena.
Within the next three seconds Goldenberg had called two technical fouls, the second triggering Morris’ ejection, an exit he punctuated by tearing off his white headband. The first technical was for “disrespectful profanity directed at the official,” crew chief Tyler Ford later said, and the second because the profanity did not stop.
And yet after it was over, the Clippers saved some of the harshest critiques for themselves.
Beaten to rebounds and beaten overall by Atlanta, 112-106, the Clippers pointed again to the uncanny way victories have often fallen out of reach as soon as rebounds have.
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The Hawks grabbed 11 more boards and held a 15-6 edge in offensive rebounds. It was the 16th game the Clippers have given up 15 or more offensive rebounds, second most this season to Charlotte’s 18.
“It’s just a team effort and I feel last few weeks we’ve been lacking that effort on the boards because that’s what mostly rebounds are — is effort,” said center Ivica Zubac, whose 12 rebounds represented a third of his team’s total. “It’s boxing out and just you gotta go and get it. We all gotta do a better job, it’s fundamentals, and that’s it.”
In the glass, the Clippers see their ceiling — a season-long struggle that has at times kept them from breaking through. With 13 games left, they trail seventh-place Minnesota by 3½ games for home-court advantage in a play-in game. Rebounding is the topic of nearly every meeting and film session the team holds, guard Luke Kennard said, but after grabbing one of the highest rates of defensive rebounds last month the Clippers have fallen to league average since the trade deadline.
“The effort, like Zu said, wasn’t there,” Kennard said. “But it’s definitely on our mind. So we have the group and the guys that want to focus on it and want to get better any chance we can, and that’s going to be our big thing going forward.”
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The Clippers (35-34) are 22-6 when grabbing equal or more rebounds.
“That is a collective effort,” said guard Reggie Jackson, whose 24 points tied Zubac for the team high. “Can’t keep getting dominated like that on that side, especially when we do such a great job of getting stops.”
The offensive rebound grabbed by Hawks wing Kevin Huerter with 83 seconds to play might have effectively ended this game, but when Atlanta missed the shot the rebound created, Zubac answered with a soft jump hook to pull the Clippers to within 108-106 after they’d trailed by 10 points with 3:49 to play.
After De’Andre Hunter made a short jump shot with 36 seconds to play, coach Tyronn Lue wanted a timeout but said officials did not look at him, forcing the Clippers to play on the fly. Intent on taking a quick shot to leave enough time for another possession after Atlanta (32-34) got the ball back, Jackson said that plan was blown up by Atlanta’s switching defense, and he didn’t take a contested three-pointer that was missed until 18 seconds were left.
In a matchup of 2021 conference semifinalists whose seasons have not been the encore they would have imagined, Atlanta guard Trae Young scored 27 points and “they executed better down the stretch to win the game,” Lue said.
Morris began the game as the sluggish Clippers’ lone offensive spark, making three of his six shots largely by attacking John Collins. He finished with 13 points on four-for-12 shooting.
“The officiating tonight, we didn’t get a good whistle,” Lue said. “Marcus got a little frustrated with that, so just something I like to teach my teams, just keep your composure, don’t get frustrated with the officiating. But, that kind of hurt us.”
Three quick fouls in two minutes against backup center Isaiah Hartenstein also exacerbated the Clippers’ lack of options to defend the Hawks’ size. Zubac’s 36 minutes were his second most this season.
“We only got what 13 games left or whatever so got to leave it all out there,” Zubac said. “We need every win so whatever it takes.”
And what it took Friday were a few more rebounds and a few more possessions — more action and fewer words.
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