Clippers confident they can win next play-in game if they focus on sharper execution
Clippers guard Norman Powell turned toward Minnesota’s coaches and reserves and yelled after making his first three-pointer Tuesday.
After Isaiah Hartenstein’s pass to a cutting Terance Mann was redirected to Powell in the corner five minutes later for his third straight made three-pointer, Powell yelled again at his closest defender.
But Powell’s biggest takeaway after Minnesota’s 109-104 play-in tournament victory that leaves the Clippers just one more loss from a finished season? After making his first four shots, he was far too quiet.
“Nine shots for a guy they look to to generate offense and things is not enough,” Powell said.
An instant-offense addition to the Clippers’ lineup both before and after a foot injury that gave him only a week to ramp up before the play-in, Powell was the only reliable scorer to start the game but missed four of his last five shots. More than the misses, he was self-critical about his aggression. Already the Clippers’ best at generating free-throw attempts, he took his last free throw with 9 minutes, 8 seconds left before halftime and didn’t attempt a single shot in the last 11 minutes, 47 seconds of the fourth quarter.
Minnesota went on a 16-2 run in the fourth quarter to take control of game and beat the Clippers, who play Friday at home for the eighth seed.
“I looked at some of the clips, yeah, when we do the small-ball pick and rolls with me and [Paul George], I’m in the middle of the floor, I just got to be more decisive, attack the paint, make those guys commit to their rotation, make them play out of that,” Powell said. “That’s the biggest thing. Just being more aggressive.”
That will not be Powell’s burden to carry alone into Friday’s play-in game against the winner of New Orleans and San Antonio at Crypto.com Arena, a game that earns the winner a first-round series against top-seeded Phoenix and the loser a ticket to the offseason.
The last time the Clippers made a basket closer than the midrange was a dunk by Mann — with 9:28 remaining.
The fourth quarter featured two free throws and 20 shots, only five of which were taken within 10 feet. And in the last five minutes, their 10 shots were taken from an average of 21 feet. Distance doesn’t speak to shot quality, of course, and Powell believed the Clippers’ attempts were strong.
With the Clippers focusing their energies on Tuesday’s play-in game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the bench led the way to a 138-88 win over the Thunder.
“We got guys into their spots where they wanted, I think that’s fine,” Powell said. “Just a few miscommunications on defense allowed them to get a couple wide-open threes that really gave them the momentum in the fourth.”
The fourth quarter was thought to be where the Clippers’ postseason experience would show and the Timberwolves’ lack of seasoning would too. But after trailing by 10 in the final eight minutes, the Timberwolves outrebounded the Clippers by five, forced five turnovers while losing only one and generated 12 free-throw attempts, making seven.
George, after acknowledging he was “rushing things” offensively during a two-for-10 first half, scored 17 third-quarter points and made three of his six shots in the fourth.
“I thought we just didn’t execute great down the stretch,” he said.
On the verge of elimination in last season’s first round against Dallas, the Clippers won the last two games of the seven-game series to advance. And after trailing 0-2 in each of their first two series last season, they also won de facto elimination Game 3s twice.
With much of the core of that team back, the Clippers believed their experience, this time, would help them.
“I believe spirits are still good in the locker room,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “It just sucks to let this one slip through our fingers. Guys are positive. We feel like we know what we have to do coming on Friday.”
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