Clippers fall to 0-4 with Russell Westbrook after losing another double-digit lead
In an arena with only a few open seats shy of reaching its 18,064-seat capacity Thursday, no one found themselves consistently surrounded by more room than Clippers guard Russell Westbrook.
From start to finish Golden State dared Westbrook, a 30% three-point shooter this season, to shoot by sagging his, and every other, defender several strides away, their feet planted in the paint as Westbrook dribbled atop the three-point arc, showing more regard for a pass or drive than a shot.
The strategy of avoidance is not unique in Westbrook’s career, but was employed to this exaggerated extent for the first time since he joined the Clippers four games ago, and underscored the challenge of spacing with Westbrook, who made three of his 12 shots, and none of the seven he attempted outside the paint, and finished with eight points and six assists in 28 minutes.
Yet as has become abundantly clear since the All-Star break ended and a four-game losing streak began, the latest defeat, a 115-91 loss to Golden State that leaves the Clippers 33-32, the Clippers’ challenges are not limited to finding the best uses for their new point guard.
The urgency “could be better,” star Paul George said, and so could their transition defense, which has turned into a turnstile following turnovers, another persistent issue amid their losing streak, with 16 turning into 29 Warriors points.
Paul George had 25 points and Kawhi Leonard 23 as the Clippers dropped their third straight game in the 108-101 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Offense has not been a problem of late — only to see them make nine of their 43 three-pointers against the Warriors.
When the Clippers play Friday in Sacramento, they will be shorthanded again because Kawhi Leonard said he will not suit up as he continues to rest on the second night of back-to-back games. Guard Norman Powell also left the locker room with his left arm in a sling.
“For us, we just got to stay the course, got to be mentally tough, mentally strong, can’t give in, and just got to be tougher,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s the bottom line. When stuff doesn’t go your way, it shows you what you’re made of and I’m confident that we have a good team and they have to be the same way, they’ve got to feel the same confidence.
“I don’t care about missed shots, it’s going to happen. You’re going to turn the ball over some, but you can’t give in and my thing is just having that toughness and that mindset that, OK, things are not going well, then let’s do something about it.”
Westbrook was responsible for two turnovers, but also just two misses, during a game-changing third quarter that saw the Clippers (33-32) commit more turnovers (seven) than make field goals (four for 22), their 16 combined points fewer than the 22 scored alone in the quarter by Golden State guard Jordan Poole. The Clippers led by three when Westbrook went to the bench with 6:05 left in the third quarter. The bottom continued to fall out from there, the quarter’s final 10 minutes seeing a 12-point Clippers lead flip into a 15-point Warriors lead — the third time in four games the Clippers have lost double-digit leads.
“Just be aggressive, find ways to be aggressive,” Westbrook said of his counters to the strategy. “I thought I did a great job of it in the first half, second half still, we just didn’t make shots. I had opportunities to get up the seam and make plays and anything I needed to do, and I just missed some shots too.”
The trouble deepened in the fourt, the deficit growing to 16 after Westbrook overthrew an entry pass into the post, then Poole made his fifth three-pointer on the next possession after George could not chase him around a screen.
Russell Westbrook tried to make the most of his debut Friday, but he and the Clippers had too many turnovers to beat Sacramento in high-scoring affair.
Team owner Steve Ballmer watched the collapse from a courtside seat under a basket.
Leonard scored 21 points while George made three of his 15 shots for 11 points. George made one of his eight three-pointers, Norman Powell shot one for nine off the bench and Eric Gordon made six of his 16 shots, including two of 10 from deep.
“There should be no excuses,” Gordon said. “We got to [have] more attention to detail. To me it’s all on us players and we got to bring it more.”
The Clippers steered out of a six-game losing streak in January through a lineup change, a spike in energy and by drastically reducing their turnovers. If that blueprint is to work again, it has to happen soon – only 17 games remain.
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