The LA Clippers came up short on Sunday night, falling 112-108 to the Brooklyn Nets. It was a hard-fought contest that could have gone either way in the final seconds — and almost did.
LA trailed by 10 points to begin the fourth quarter, and Brooklyn quickly extended its lead to 15 with over eight minutes left on the clock. It was their largest lead of the night, and the game felt like it was close to being over at that time. However, the Clippers stayed in the game thanks to some timely buckets from Paul George and Ivica Zubac, and Brooklyn's lead began to shrink.
When George was pulled for the final three minutes due to his minutes restriction, Brooklyn's lead stood at just six — more than enough for LA to overcome. Without George on the floor, though, the Clippers would need Kawhi Leonard to take over on offense.
Leonard scored six of the next nine points for the Clippers, with the other bucket coming from Lou Williams. Leonard's sixth tied the game at 108 with 29 seconds remaining in the quarter, and the ball went back to Brooklyn for what would presumably be their final possession.
The Nets drew up a good shot for Kyrie Irving — a stepback three-pointer with Terance Mann switched onto him — but his jumper rimmed out. Unfortunately for the Clippers, the ball rolled right to DeAndre Jordan, waiting under the basket for the rebound. He tipped the shot back up and in, and the Nets took a two-point lead with 11 seconds to play.
The Clippers got the shot they wanted on their final possession as well, though they didn't end up with the same result.
Leonard caught the inbounds pass at the top of the key and immediately drove toward the rim. With James Harden draped on him, Leonard made his way into the paint, gathered, and sank his shot at the basket. The official standing by blew his whistle — seemingly to call a foul on Harden — but it ended up going against Leonard, who was called for an offensive foul.
The Clippers had no choice but to foul on the following possession, and after Harden connected on both of his free throw attempts, LA was officially finished.
The Clippers will retake the floor on Tuesday, when they host the Washington Wizards. For now, though, let's take a closer look at some of the things we can take from Sunday night's performance.
Clippers Voice Their Thoughts on Controversial Call
After the game had ended, Tyronn Lue sat down for his media session and glanced over the stat sheet. His first question was about the controversial call on Leonard.
"They called it, so there's nothing you can do about it now," Lue said. "I'm not a big complain guy, but some guys said he had his arm before Kawhi was able to push off... I don't know, because I didn't look at it. To me, the game was over, and there was nothing you could do about it, so it is what it is."
Lue, however, didn't think the call was the only reason why the Clippers came up short.
"We got 35 threes which is way better than we've been getting," Lue said. "But I don't think I liked the shots that we got by getting those threes. It's like we couldn't get to the paint... We settled for a lot of jump shots, we didn't get to the paint to make the next play or make the next pass for another guy, and that hurt us. It made us stagnant."
Leonard also spoke on the foul, and he was still visibly frustrated by what had happened more than an hour after the game.
"My take from it is if we're going to pretty much play bully ball at the end of the game, you know, let both sides play it," Leonard said. "But they didn't call it, so good defense. I felt that I got grabbed early, but like I said, no call, so great defense."
It was the first time this season that one of LA's games had really come down to the final possession, which only adds to the frustration that the team felt. With the loss, the Clippers fell to 22-10 on the season and 0-2 against Brooklyn.
Paul George Delivers Down the Stretch
Paul George may not have played for the final three minutes of the game, but his effort earlier in the frame was instrumental in giving the Clippers an opportunity to win.
George was LA's best player on Sunday night, going off for 34 points, seven assists, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal in roughly 33 minutes of action. He went 12-of-19 from the floor, 4-of-9 from three-point range and 6-of-8 from the free throw line. 12 of those points came in the fourth quarter.
Without the night he had, the Clippers never would have been in the position they were in the final seconds.
Tyronn Lue spoke on the decision to pull him after the game.
"The game kind of got out of hand and we had to bring him back to get the game close," Lue said. "He played well, he played good to get us back in it, and then, you know, it's a tough decision, but the biggest thing is that he's healthy and the biggest thing is the players' health. We did what we could, and it is what it is."
George also chimed in later on, saying he isn't sure how much longer he'll have to play on a minutes restriction, but he felt good enough to continue playing in those final minutes.
Clippers Opt For Mann Over Kennard
Before the Clippers took the floor on Sunday night, Tyronn Lue informed reporters that the team had come to a new decision about the rotations.
According to Lue, the team plans to use only one of Terance Mann or Luke Kennard on a given night, depending upon the matchup.
"Depending on the matchups, who we're playing, I think we'll go back and forth," Lue said. "I've had a good conversation with both of those guys, and it's going to be on a night-to-night basis... We need Terance's defense and energy, or we need Luke's shooting and playmaking abilities. Both of those guys understand, and you can't play 11, 12 guys in this league, so they just have to stay ready."
The Clippers ended up siding with Mann against the Nets, who recorded six points (which came off of two three-pointers, oddly enough), two rebounds and two assists in roughly 18 minutes.
It's an interesting decision on Lue's part, but it's also not like this is a brand new thing. We've already seen him tinker a bit with the rotations throughout the season, and he likes to rely on 10-game sample sizes to determine if something is working or not. Based on the way Mann has played lately, moving to a decision like this seems to make sense.