Clippers doomed by familiar formula as DeMar DeRozan scores 50 in Bulls’ win
That reliable, step-by-step formula for victories was happening again Thursday for the Clippers.
The double-digit deficit. The rally behind defense and timely shooting. The pressure applied in the final moments to goad an uncharacteristic opponent mistake. A completed comeback. Repeat.
The only surprise in Chicago’s United Center was that it was happening against them.
Leading by as many as 16 points with 16 minutes to play and eight with 2 minutes 26 seconds remaining, the Clippers were reminded what it’s like to be on the other end of a deflating comeback in a 135-130 loss after a series of mistakes of either focus, execution or both.
Paul George boosts the Clippers’ offense and gives coach Tyronn Lue new options, but scouts say some playoff matchup hurdles will be hard to overcome.
With Chicago trailing 118-115 with seven seconds left, wing Terance Mann fouled Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan before an inbounds pass, a foul away from the ball that not only gave Chicago one free throw, which DeRozan made, but the ball back for another possession. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said he didn’t consider it a foul, but a review of Mann’s hold on DeRozan did, and with the extra chance DeRozan took a three-pointer — only to be fouled by Paul George with 3.5 seconds left.
DeRozan made the first two free throws but missed what would have been the winner, preserving a chance for the Clippers to prevail in overtime. Instead, with George remaining on the bench as the Clippers adhered to his minutes limit, DeRozan scored 10 of Chicago’s 17 overtime points on his way to a 50-point performance.
“It just sucks that we felt like we had it and we let it slip,” said guard Reggie Jackson, whose 34 points were two off his season high.
Lue said he didn’t give any consideration to playing George in overtime after he’d logged 32 minutes in only his second game back after a three-month layoff with a torn elbow ligament. But the Clippers shouldn’t have needed George in overtime.
Ever since their 32-point first quarter, their best opening period in nearly four weeks, opened a 10-point lead behind the Marcus Morris Sr.’s badly needed hot start, the Clippers created a role reversal from their usual trail-big, comeback-big script.
An 18-4 run in just five minutes during the second quarter, with the disruptive defensive combination of Robert Covington and Nicolas Batum taking center stage, widened the lead to 15 before halftime. As Chicago (45-32) pulled within single digits early in the fourth quarter, the Clippers pushed back behind gut-check baskets from Luke Kennard, Batum, Jackson and Mann.
But “we just didn’t finish the game,” Lue said, lamenting low-quality shot attempts that contributed to 36% fourth-quarter shooting.
They are now 10-5 in games decided by three points or fewer, tied for the second-most wins, after losing for just the fifth time in 31 games when leading after three quarters.
Playing for the first time since Dec. 22, Paul George scored 34 points as the host Clippers rallied to defeat the Utah Jazz 121-115 on Tuesday night.
“DeMar was able to attack Reggie [Jackson] a couple of times because we couldn’t get our matchups because we didn’t score the basketball,” Lue added. “It’s just something we can learn from.”
DeRozan, the free agent who considered the Clippers in the offseason, was indomitable while making 15 of his 24 shots inside the arc.
“He may be the only one in the world who can make those shots,” said Batum.
DeRozan apologized to teammates for his lone miss out of 15 free throws that ended regulation, coach Billy Donovan said. As much as the Clippers (37-40) will look at how their plethora of wings were unable to stop DeRozan, they have other developments to study, such as the long-armed lineup combination of George, Batum and Robert Covington that closed each half as Lue took his longest look yet at a “combination that gives a lot of length on the floor and defensive presence,” he said.
Perhaps the best sign was the invigoration of Morris, who had missed all 12 three-pointers he’d taken in his last four games. After making just one of six shots amid George’s brilliant return Tuesday, Lue apologized to Morris after the 25-point comeback win for not helping him be in better positions with the ball largely in George and Jackson’s hands.
Morris finished with 20 points, Jackson was highly efficient with six three-pointers on nine shots and George scored 22 on 20 shots, including nine fourth-quarter points that finished with two free throws with 11 seconds left to put the Clippers up three.
Unless — or perhaps until — Norman Powell and Kawhi Leonard, who watched from the Chicago sideline in a White Sox hat, return this season, the Clippers’ offense and playoff potential hinges on the output of its trio of veterans, George, Morris and Jackson. Thursday offered fresh evidence each can have their moment in the same game — and also proof that mistakes can still unravel all of it.
Up next for Clippers: Friday at Milwaukee
When: 5 p.m.
On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal; Radio: 570, 1220
Update: Both the Bucks and Clippers will be playing on consecutive days, though the Clippers have the much shorter journey to Milwaukee — because the Bucks played in Brooklyn on Thursday. Playing at home this season, the Bucks own the NBA’s second-fastest pace while limiting opponents to the second-fewest points in the paint. Giannis Antetokounmpo entered Wednesday averaging more points (29.9) and fewer turnovers (3.2) than he did in either of his two most valuable player seasons.
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