For one night, the Clippers looked like the world beaters they were assembled to be. Kawhi Leonard scored 43 points on 14-of-22 shooting as the team cruised to a 128-103 over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The win brings the Clippers' record to 28-13 at the midway point of the season.
Leonard got off to a blazing start, scoring 11 points in the first quarter as the Cavaliers had no answers for him on any part of the floor. Leonard was able to get to the basket at will, and his 3-pointer was falling with regularity, making him near impossible to guard. He finished 6-of-10 from distance and set a career-high with four triples in the second quarter. Leonard also became the fourth player in the shot-clock era to score at least 43 points in 29 minutes or less.
For a spell in the first half, Leonard's individual brilliance was canceled out by some hot shooting from Cedi Osman, but the Cleveland forward couldn't keep up the pace with the reigning Finals MVP.
Leonard wan't the only Clipper who was cooking at Staples Center Tuesday. Lou Williams' jumper was buttery from the start, and against a weak defensive team (the Cavaliers rank 29th in defensive rating), there was no real scheme in place to stop Williams from going left and popping shots at will. His 24 points came on only 13 shot attempts in 19 minutes.
The Cavaliers took their last lead of the game at 34-33 with 9:29 to play in the second quarter. At that point, the Clippers subbed Jerome Robinson out for Patrick Beverley, and the Beverley plus bench unit built an advantage that the team would not concede for the remainder of the game.
Beverley's energy was palpable throughout the night. He had four assists and four rebounds in the first quarter, including three offensive rebounds on a single possession that saw Beverley, Leonard, and Landry Shamet each miss 3-pointers before Beverley finally assisted Leonard for a make. His nine assists led the team and set the tone for a night when the ball was flying around for the Clippers. In the first half, L.A. assisted on 20 of 25 made baskets.
Shamet had his best game since the start of the new year, nailing 4-of-11 3-point attempts and adding seven rebounds. Too often recently, Shamet has let poor shooting impact his effort on the defensive end, but he put together a complete performance on both sides of the floor Tuesday, albeit against an overmatched opponent. So long as Shamet continues to have faith in his shot and continues to take it, his percentage won't matter as much as his gravity drawing defenders out of the paint. The fact that he made some shots against the Cavaliers certainly doesn't hurt.
The Clippers still haven't settled on a starting lineup, using their fifth different starting unit in as many games. Moe Harkless earned the nod alongside Shamet, Beverley, Leonard, and Zubac, and continued to stuff the peripherals of the box score (11 rebounds) despite not providing much of a scoring threat.
Zubac ended up being the second-leading scorer in the starting lineup in Paul George's absence. He finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds and had some raucous dunks over a smaller Cleveland front line.
The Clippers were gifted a game against one of the weakest teams in the league on the second night of a back-to-back, and they took care of business. It hasn't always been smooth for the Clippers in recent weeks, but it was against Cleveland.