The LA Clippers came into Wednesday night's game in rough shape. As losers of two straight — their worst losing streak of the season — and down a key starter in Paul George, it never seemed like a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves would be a sure thing, even if the Wolves had the worst record in the Western Conference.
But thanks to the help of Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams, the Clippers were able to rally their way to victory and overcome the Wolves in Karl-Anthony Towns' return. It wasn't pretty, but after some back-and-forth in the first half, LA's strong second carried them to a 119-112 win.
The Clippers dug themselves a nice hole in the first quarter, as they lacked energy on both ends of the floor. The team shot just 43.5% from the field through the first 12 minutes, and while they did manage to record six assists on their 10 made field goals, it felt like LA was playing more of an individual game than usual.
LA's defense improved in the second quarter, as they managed to hold Minnesota to just 21 points, but their offensive woes continued. The Clippers looked even worse on that end than they did in the first, this time scoring 20 points on a mere 31.6% shooting. Leonard and Williams were humming, though, having scored 30 of LA's 47 first-half points.
The Clippers saved themselves in the third quarter, as has become the norm this season. It would be easy to point to the fact that they shot 54.5% from the field as the reason why the frame was so lopsided, but LA wouldn't have been as successful had the team not put forth such a strong effort on the glass. The Clippers pulled in 20 rebounds in the third quarter alone — nearly matching the 21 they recorded in the first half — and limited the Wolves to just five. Terance Mann deserves a ton of credit for bringing some much-needed effort here, and it's hard to imagine the Clippers winning this quarter as handily as they did without him.
The Wolves did manage to make things interesting early in the frame, cutting LA's lead down to just two about three minutes in, but the Clippers recovered and kept their lead around eight points the rest of the way. Leonard and Williams played exceptionally well in the fourth, combining to score 25 of LA's 39 points.
Again, this wasn't the most glamorous victory. The Clippers do not deserve praise for the way they played in the first half. But they clearly heard the wake-up call, and they went hard when it mattered most.
Now, before we start thinking about Friday's contest in Chicago, let's go over some of what we saw last night.
Lou Williams Returns to Form
Sweet Lou hasn't had the best start to his 2020-21 campaign. Through his first 20 games of the season, Williams was averaging just 9.1 points and 3.1 assists in a little under 20 minutes per game — a significant drop-off from years prior.
However, Williams has completely flipped the script in his last four appearances, and he's starting to look more like the player who was named Sixth Man of the Year in two of the last three seasons.
Dating back to last week's game in Cleveland, Williams is scoring 20.8 points per game and connecting on 55.1% of his looks from the floor. He's been efficient from deep, he's got his mid-range game going again, and he's getting to the stripe at a much higher rate than he was to begin the year.
It's not just his offensive game, either. Williams has been playing some of the best defense of his career lately — both on the ball and off. He's played well within his limitations, making the most of his speed to cut into passing lanes and snag some timely steals.
With how well he's performed, it's worth wondering if he should slide into the starting rotation until Paul George returns. His ability to score at will could make him a useful asset in that group, and with Beverley back in the lineup, the Clippers could keep him off of opposing teams' top scorers.
This would require moving Reggie Jackson back to the bench (or out of the rotation altogether), though the Clippers could probably survive the minutes he spends on the floor with Luke Kennard so long as they play alongside reserves like Mann, Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac.
There won't be as much of a need for Williams to keep scoring like this once George returns, but getting him those extra minutes could really go a long way for the time being.
Kawhi Leonard Takes Over
The Clippers needed a big game from Leonard on Wednesday night, and when it mattered most, he delivered.
The two-way star and MVP candidate went off for a season-high 36 points against Minnesota to go along with eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block in roughly 37 minutes of action. He was particularly lethal beyond the three-point line, where he sank five of his six attempts from range, which helped put him back above 40% on the season.
Perhaps his most impressive stat of the night, though, was his +25 plus/minus rating in the second half. Leonard played 20 of a possible 24 minutes in the third and fourth quarters, where the Clippers outscored the Wolves by 13.
Leonard's impact on winning has always been evident — he is the all-time leader in winning percentage, after all — but he's elevated his play to another level with the Clippers. Not only is he a terrific scorer, but Leonard is a much-improved playmaker who is constantly looking to create the best possible shot on each possession.
His play this season — especially while George sits out — can't go unnoticed.
Patrick Beverley Looked Energized in Return
After missing eight games in a row with a knee injury, the Clippers finally got Patrick Beverley back on the floor on Wednesday night. His energy and two-way play were crucial, even if LA only got it for 18 minutes.
After the game, Ty Lue talked extensively about how Beverley impacts the team.
"Just seeing the way he plays, you know it's not about shot attempts or about scoring the basketball for him," Lue said. "It's about getting wins, getting stops, you know, bringing that energy. He gets excited just from making a good pass... Those are the type of guys you love to have on your team, and he brings a lot of great things on the floor."
You can't always expect Beverley to fill up the stat sheet, but his energy is infectious. Having him back on the floor will be key as the Clippers look to finish up their road trip on Friday, but even more so for LA's upcoming homestand.