The LA Clippers impressed in their win over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night, but the team failed to keep Stephen Curry's squad at bay on Friday. Despite trailing by as many as 22 points in the third quarter, Golden State pulled off an improbable comeback to defeat the Clippers, 115-105.
LA was in control for most of the contest, outscoring Golden State 85-63 through 33 minutes. The final 15, however, belonged to the Dubs.
The Clippers were outscored 52-20 down the stretch, and the team committed more turnovers (10) than it made shots (seven) during that run. Golden State, on the other hand, connected on 20 of their 31 attempts.
It obviously wasn't as bad a half as we saw the Clippers play against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this season, but it was the worst we've seen since. And while there has been an abnormal amount of 20- and even 30-point leads built this year, very few teams have been able to overcome them.
The Clippers will get a good shot to bounce back from this loss when they play the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, but the team can't afford to let off the gas against them, either.
For now, here are a few takeaways from last night's effort.
The Trouble with the Bench
The Clippers got a strong contribution from their starters on Friday — one of the best of the young season, in fact.
Paul George recorded a team-high 25 points (9-of-13 FG, 5-of-7 3PT) and seven assists, and Kawhi Leonard wasn't far behind with 24 points (7-of-17 FG, 3-of-5 3PT) and four assists. Serge Ibaka had an efficient outing as well with 19 points (9-of-12 FG, 1-of-2 3PT) and seven rebounds, and we'll get to Nicolas Batum's night a little later on.
However, the same could not be said of LA's second unit.
The foursome of Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac and Lou Williams looked dreadful on both ends of the floor. The group combined to score just 18 points on 36% shooting and accounted for half of LA's 18 turnovers on the night. Moreover, Morris had the best plus/minus rating of the group at -20, while Zubac posted the worst at -26.
It would be easy to write this off as a one-time thing, but this has become something of a pattern for the Clippers this season. LA's role players have largely been in the negatives — even in wins — and the group hardly resembles a cohesive unit.
Morris did only just return this week, so it wouldn't be right for him to catch a lot of the blame here. The failures have the most to do with the trio of Kennard, Williams and Reggie Jackson, who spend a majority of their minutes sharing the floor. It's a well-known fact that this trio struggles on the defensive end, but the idea is that they can score enough points on offense to offset their weakness. Even that hasn't been true lately, though.
Kennard has been the most efficient of the three, as he's averaging 8.5 points on 46.9% shooting from beyond the arc this season. But he's still looked uncomfortable at times, even if he is beginning to be more aggressive with his shot.
Williams' struggles are the most obvious. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year is averaging a mere 8.9 points per game this season, and he's not gotten any better on defense. Granted, his touches are down due in part to Ty Lue staggering George and Leonard with the second unit, but he hasn't looked nearly as dominant as we've grown used to over the last several years.
Eventually, the Clippers are going to need to make a move or two to improve their depth. A defensive-minded guard is the biggest need, but it couldn't hurt to pick up another wing or a more physical forward to really get this group back on its feet.
Nicolas Batum's Brilliance
It doesn't matter how many times it's said — nothing will ever truly capture how much of a surprise Batum has been for the Clippers so far this year.
A lot of it has to do with how low our expectations were, sure. But the other lot of it has to do with just how magnificent he's played and fit in with this roster through 10 games.
The 32-year-old swingman has made a real case to be considered LA's third-best player, posting averages of 10.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists on .500/.419/.938 shooting splits. He's been efficient, he's always in the right place at the right time, and he has the perfect attitude about his new role with the Clippers.
Modeling his game after Spurs-era Boris Diaw and Dubs-era Andre Iguodala, Batum says he "doesn't try to do too much" and is instead focused on being ready to handle the role assigned to him for each game. In doing so, he's become the type of player that every championship-contending team needs: An unselfish, high-IQ glue guy that's prepared to do the dirty work and earn very little credit for it.
As the season continues, it's looking more and more like this is the player Batum will be, too. This isn't a fluke. His shooting numbers might take a dip at some point, but the rebounding, passing and instincts aren't going anywhere.
The Clippers found a keeper in Batum.
No More Freebies
The Clippers have been especially efficient from the three-point line this season, ranking second in the league in three-point percentage through their first 10 games. There's only one area on the floor where they rank higher, and that's from the free-throw line.
LA has converted 84.6% of its free throws this season — the exact percentage they shot against Golden State on Friday — good for No. 1 in the NBA. And while the roster changes are a big part of that, the biggest reason is that the team simply isn't heading to the stripe that often.
The Clippers are attempting just 19.5 free throws per game — the fifth-lowest mark in the league. They shot just 13 on Friday. Only the Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies get to the line less often.
Not only is this a sign of where the Clippers have earned a majority of their points this season, but it's also a significant dropoff from the last. In 2019-20, LA led the league in attempts per game at 26.5.
The short answer to this problem is that the Clippers need to be more aggressive and welcome contact rather than shy away from it. The longer answer is that the Clippers need to attack the paint more often, which they simply haven't done enough through their first 10 games.
Do that, and not only will the Clippers head to the line more often, but they'll make it easier to space the floor as a result.