Following a six-game road trip out East, the LA Clippers returned home on Friday night to host the Boston Celtics. After leading for most of the first half, the Clippers struggled to contain Boston in the second en route to a 119-115 defeat.
The Clippers started the game behind the eight ball, as the team learned just hours before tip-off that star wing Paul George would not play due to foot soreness. However, LA still got its offense clicking in the opening minutes and built an 11-point lead in the first quarter.
That lead hovered around the 10-point range for most of the second quarter as well, but there was reason to be concerned with the way the game was going. The Clippers had a massive advantage in field goal percentage and rebounds after the first half of play, yet their lead was just 11 at the break. It felt like the team could or should have been up by plenty more at that point — especially since it was still a 16-point contest late in the second quarter.
The game was lost in the third quarter, which has been LA's best as of late. Boston erupted for a 38-point frame on 63% shooting from the field, while the Clippers scored just 20 points and shot below 29%.
The Clippers did still manage to fight back in the final frame, and there were a few lead changes down the final stretch. A handful of turnovers kept the team from regaining control, though, and the Celtics took advantage of those costly mistakes.
With the loss, LA fell to 17-7 on the season, which pushed them back to third in the Western Conference. With a relatively easy stretch of games coming up — including Sunday's contest against the Sacramento Kings — the Clippers have a chance to climb back to the top before facing a tougher slate at the end of the month.
Let's get into what we learned from the loss.
The Clippers Missed Paul George
It shouldn't really come as a surprise that the Clippers struggled without Paul George, who's in the midst of another MVP-caliber season. The 30-year-old wing is enjoying a career-year from beyond the arc and has never looked like the distributor he is now.
The Clippers could've won without him, as they have a few times already this season. But the things he does best really would've given the team the edge it needed on Friday night, and it was obvious that something was missing.
Above all, George is a shot creator — whether it be his own or a teammate's. He's great at supplementing runs, yes, but he's a terrific option to look to when the offense gets stagnant as well.
Lou Williams did a solid job of keeping the offense going when Kawhi Leonard was off the floor, but there isn't another scorer in the league quite like George.
"I think shooting the basketball, I think attacking, creating bothers," Ty Lue said after the game. "I think when teams switch, he's one guy that can beat a guy off the dribble and get to the basket. They come help, and he's praying off the threes. So, being able to attack their switches more, and also when Kawhi [Leonard] is out of the game, having him on the floor is big for us."
There's currently no timetable for George's return, which means the Clippers will need guys like Luke Kennard, Lou Williams and Terance Mann to step up on both ends of the floor for the foreseeable future.
Ty Lue has Options at the Two
Luke Kennard has been the team's usual starter at shooting guard when Paul George doesn't play this season, but before Friday's contest, Ty Lue revealed that he may not always get the nod.
In fact, the only reason Kennard started against the Celtics was because Jaylen Brown — Boston's usual starter at the two — was out with an injury. Otherwise, Lue said he would've looked to Terance Mann to get the start.
Lue didn't say why Mann would have been the starter, but it's not hard to read between the lines here. Even though Mann isn't a top-tier defender, he's a much better option than Kennard on that end of the floor — especially against a player like Brown, who's scoring a little over 26 points per game this season.
Starting Kennard ended up working in LA's favor, as he scored 13 points in the first half and eight in the first quarter. Mann still had a solid effort off the bench, though, and played well on defense.
Nicolas Batum's Reliability
The Nicolas Batum hype train is full steam ahead and showing no signs of slowing down. If you aren't on it already, it's time to climb aboard.
Batum has been one of LA's most reliable players all season, whether it be for his contributions from beyond the arc, on the glass or moving the ball around. He does a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor, and he does it all extremely well.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Batum stepped up in Paul George's absence.
The veteran wing went for 16 points, seven rebounds, two steals and an assist while cashing in on four of his seven attempts from three-point range on Friday night, which is right on par with how he's played all year.
"You know, when you get to a new team like that, we have high expectations," Batum said after the game. "It was a short training camp, we got only three preseason games, so it's not easy. [I had] to really get focused to get to know the new guys, new coach, new system. I got a chance to have a good coaching staff and great teammates, so I was really welcomed to this team and it's been pretty easy for me to fit, so, so far, so good."
Look for Batum to take on an increased role on offense while George is out with an injury.