Paul George’s 34 points not enough as scoring-deficient Clippers fall to Jazz
The Clippers point guard whipped out an invisible dictionary.
How could it be possible, through nine games to start the season, that these Clippers were last in the NBA in points per game? In offensive efficiency? These Clippers — even continuing to miss Kawhi Leonard — with Paul George, John Wall, Norman Powell and a crew of veteran talent capable of going for 30 points any night?
So guard Reggie Jackson, who had struggled to a 36% shooting start from the field this season, put it extravagantly in the locker room before Sunday night’s game at Crypto.com Arena.
The Clippers, who are still missing key contributors, are on a three-game winning streak as star forward Paul George says they’re forming a new identity.
“Definitely, it’s an oxymoron,” Jackson said. “All the talent we’ve acquired, all of the offensive firepower we have, we [have] one of the worst offensive ratings. So it’s just a little ironic.”
The irony continued Sunday night, the Clippers failing to get enough going once again, falling to 5-5 after a 110-102 loss to the Utah Jazz in which they bricked the deep ball time and time again. The loss ended a three-game winning streak.
“We’re trending in the right direction offensively — [but] eight for 33 is not going to get it done from the three-point line,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.
The Clippers were 0 for 10 on three-point tries in the fourth quarter, as Wall pointed out after the game in a locker-room conversation with George, who slumped in his chair and groaned.
George had 34 points, Marcus Morris Sr. added 18 and three other Clippers scored in double figures. But Wall was 0 for 4 from three, Powell continued a slow start with six points, and jump shots clanked off the iron in the fourth quarter as the upstart Jazz improved to 8-3.
There are quite a few cooks in the kitchen for the Clippers, which is tremendous on paper, but as players shift in and out of the lineup and the team continues to miss Leonard, who has no timetable for a return from knee soreness, per Lue, the amorphous rotations have “created a little inconsistency within our offense,” George said.
“I’m very optimistic this team will find our stride and start playing our best basketball,” George said. “... We’re just going through those growing pains.”
Early in Sunday’s game, it seemed as if that offensive inconsistency wouldn’t matter as long as George was firing, continuing a four-game stretch in which he has racked up at least 28 points every game.
After scoring 15 points in the first quarter, George grabbed a rebound with the Clippers down 46-40 in the second and went to work, drawing a foul.
Then came the smoothness, the no-sweat-handles that make George’s monster games seem almost effortless, the mixing and shaking for a hop-step floater. Then a drive into the Jazz’s Kelly Olynyk, bumping him out of the way, finishing a sweet left-handed layup. Then a staredown of Olynyk, kicking out, getting a pass back and burying a three-pointer on Olynyk.
Suddenly, George had 24 points with three minutes to go in the first half and the Clippers had cut their deficit to one.
But the Jazz grabbed the momentum back without the Clippers’ Ivica Zubac on the floor — who entered leading the NBA in blocks per game — blitzing the rim in a quick change of pace in a game in which the Clippers outscored the Jazz in points in the paint by 26. Olynyk strayed from the three-point line for a driving layup, Collin Sexton (who finished with 22 points) bulldozed his way to the rim, Lauri Markkanen drew fouls on the interior. The Clippers trailed 63-56 at halftime.
Help was on the way. Wall, the Clippers’ biggest offseason acquisition and a onetime All-NBA force with the Washington Wizards, was frustrated through much of the night. And then the speed that once produced nightly highlights ignited.
As the Jazz’s shooting ran dry to end the third quarter, Wall took off in transition, attacking helplessly backpedaling Jazz defenders for pretty left-handed finishes and double-clutch layups. And early in the fourth quarter, he galloped down the lane again, circling the ball behind his back to leave Jordan Clarkson in the dust and keeping his hand raised after a layup that put the Clippers up 93-89 with seven minutes to play.
John Wall powered the Clippers late in a 113-106 win over the Spurs two days after his frustrating game at Houston. Paul George scored 32 points.
“That’s the team we need to be,” George said. “That pace, that’s what I envisioned.”
But Wall’s explosiveness was matched minutes later by Sexton, who hung for an and-one that gave the Jazz a 104-98 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
That third-quarter stretch was Wall at his best — and the team at theirs, George said. But the Clippers haven’t found that gear for a full 48 minutes. And the oxymoron persists.
Up next for Clippers: vs. Cleveland
When: 7:30 p.m. PST Monday
On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal, NBA TV; Radio: 570, 1220
Update: The Cavaliers (8-1) own the second-best record in the NBA after winning their eighth consecutive game Sunday, 114-100 over the Lakers. The Clippers will have to deal with former Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, who is averaging 31.1 points per game and 7.1 assists for Cleveland.
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