The LA Clippers took a three-game winning streak into Brooklyn on Tuesday night, where they were met by Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Kevin Durant and the Nets. It was a hard-fought battle highlighted by stellar performances from stars on both teams, but ultimately, the Clippers fell, 120-124.
The contest favored the Clippers in the early moments, as LA jumped out to a 20-8 lead roughly halfway through the first quarter. Both teams traded buckets for the remainder of the frame, and the Clippers took an eight-point advantage into the second.
That trend continued well into the following quarter, though the Clippers got things rolling late in the period. LA had built up a 56-45 lead with just over three minutes left in the opening half, and it looked like it would take a sizable advantage into the break. But Brooklyn managed to close out the quarter about as well as possible, going on a 12-2 run over the final 3:15 to trim LA's lead down to just one at halftime.
The half was dominated by Kawhi Leonard, who logged 14 points, five assists, two rebounds, two steals and two blocks through his first 19 minutes of action. On Brooklyn's end, Irving was already up to a quick 15 points, while Harden was already well on his way to a triple-double with eight points, nine assists and five rebounds.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, the Nets stayed hot as they entered the third quarter and swiftly grabbed their first lead of the contest. Once again, the teams traded buckets for most of the quarter, though the Clippers would take a slim 90-88 advantage into the final frame.
LA's momentum carried well into the fourth, but Brooklyn's closers took over when it mattered most. The trio of Irving, Harden and Durant combined for 29 of the Nets' 36 fourth-quarter points, and they each hit some incredibly tough shots down the stretch that helped put the game away. Irving finished the contest with a season-high 39 points, Harden logged a triple-double and Durant poured in 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting from the field.
Despite the loss, this was easily one of LA's most entertaining games of the season — and one of the best of the year in the NBA. The two will meet again in Los Angeles on Feb. 21, but for now, let's focus a little more on what we can take from Tuesday's contest.
The Clippers Missed Patrick Beverley
Coming into Tuesday's meeting with Brooklyn, reserve guard Reggie Jackson had done a tremendous job filling in for Patrick Beverley. In four starts, Jackson was averaging 16.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists and was consistently making the right plays on both ends of the floor.
Understandably, he struggled a bit more against the Nets' high-powered offense, though there probably wasn't much that any other defender could have done to prevent Irving from scoring at will.
However, it seems fair to suggest that the Clippers would have had an easier go of things on both ends of the floor had Beverley been available to play. He's an underrated shooter and passer, and his impact on defense is well documented — especially when it comes to setting the tone for the rest of the team.
Nicolas Batum, who scored a season-high 21 points against the Nets, commented on Beverley's absence after the game.
"One thing for sure is we missed Patrick Beverley," Batum said. "He would've been huge for us tonight. So Pat Bev, come back. Please."
Coach Ty Lue did not offer a status update on Beverley, who hasn't played since he suffered a knee injury in LA's victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 24.
Whenever Beverley is able to return, expect Jackson to play a sizable role off the bench. He's been one of LA's best players of late, and Lue has already talked about finding a permanent place for him in the rotation.
Nicolas Batum Continues to Shine
When Nicolas Batum joined the LA Clippers this offseason, the consensus was that he would be a solid depth guy who would only play a handful of minutes per game and help move the ball around. Almost no one expected him to be a starter, and I imagine even fewer figured that he would prove to be such a key role player this deep into the season.
Batum had another terrific performance on Tuesday night, logging 21 points, six rebounds and a steal across 38 minutes. He had his second-best shooting night from three-point range as well, as Batum connected on five of eight attempts from deep. It was only the fifth time all season that he didn't record a single assist.
Batum was also supposed to be on a minutes restriction, as he missed Sunday's game against the New York Knicks with a minor injury. But as Batum put it after Tuesday's game, he didn't really care.
"I was supposed to be on a minutes restriction, between 20 and 25 minutes," Batum said. "But that was the game. When coach calls my name, I just go, you know? I don't really care, I got a chance to play this year."
Batum indicated that he should be good to go for Wednesday's game in Cleveland as well, but that could be something to keep an eye on as we approach tip-off. If he's on a tighter minutes restriction tonight, look for Marcus Morris to take on an increased role.
Kawhi Leonard Builds Upon MVP-Caliber Season
While Paul George has been gobbling up attention for his performance so far this season (and rightfully so), Kawhi Leonard has quietly been just as good — if not better.
The two-way star has been as efficient as ever to begin the year, averaging 26.3 points per game on 50/40/90 shooting splits. His passing has been equally impressive, as Leonard is currently logging a career-high 5.4 assists and committing just 1.6 turnovers per game. His assist percentage of 25.1 ranks in the 97th percentile among forwards, per Cleaning the Glass.
Leonard's performance against Brooklyn was a perfect example of the way he's played all season. In 39 minutes, he recorded 33 points, five rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks while connecting on half of his 24 shot attempts. He had a sub-par night from beyond the arc (which was surprising, considering Brooklyn hasn't defended the three well this year), but it was an otherwise phenomenal game.
Winning MVP probably isn't something that really matters to Leonard, but if he continues to put up these kinds of numbers and the Clippers hang around the top of the Western Conference standings, expect him to be in the conversation all year long.
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