After losing a tight contest in Brooklyn one night earlier, the LA Clippers earned a bounce-back win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, 121-99.
It was a dominant night for the Clippers, who led by as many as 23 points in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. However, it didn't always look like a blowout waiting to happen, and there was reason to believe that the Clippers could be in trouble as they went into the game.
Despite their reputation, the Cavaliers have been impressive this season. They came into the night at 10-11, and while their offense hadn't been particularly noteworthy, Cleveland had fielded a top-tier defense since day one. The Cavs had also rattled off numerous victories over some of the league's best teams, including the Brooklyn Nets (twice) and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Couple that with the fact that the Clippers were playing their sixth game in nine days and just one night away from being back home in Los Angeles, and it's not hard to imagine them looking past the Cavaliers.
Fortunately, as we've seen time and time again from this year's Clippers squad, they stayed focused and engaged all night long. There were some moments when it felt like Cleveland might take over — particularly in the second quarter when LA struggled to get anything going on offense — but for the most part, the Clippers looked free of fatigue.
LA will have Thursday off as the team prepares to host the Boston Celtics on Friday night, which should make for another night of entertaining basketball. The Clippers' matchups with the Celtics last season were among the best we saw all year, and tomorrow's game should be no different.
But before we get too deep into that contest, let's focus on some of what we could glean from LA's win in Cleveland.
Paul George's Game of the Year
Paul George has been phenomenal to begin the season. The 30-year-old wing has hovered around 50/50/90 shooting splits from the jump and has looked as dominant on both ends of the floor as he did during his career-year in Oklahoma City in 2019, when he finished third in the MVP race.
In Wednesday's contest, his performance only strengthened his case for being back in the MVP conversation this year.
George went off for 36 points, six assists and four rebounds across 34 minutes of action in what was easily his most efficient outing of the season. George connected on eight of his nine attempts from three-point range and shot 13-of-20 overall, and for the first time all year, he didn't commit a single turnover.
"Just aggressive," Coach Ty Lue said of George's performance after the game. "Just shooting his three-ball, getting to the basket, attacking. Just making plays for himself and everybody else, so I'm just happy to see him bounce back the way he did. I didn't know he was 8-for-9 from three, but I knew he was shooting it well."
It was the third time this season that George had scored at least 30 points in a game and the eighth time that he had hit at least five three-pointers. For reference, George had nine 30-point performances last season and twelve games where he hit five or more threes.
If George can keep shooting with this level of efficiency and the Clippers can stay near the top of the Western Conference, he'll find himself back in the MVP conversation in no time — perhaps alongside his teammate Kawhi Leonard, as well.
Ivica Zubac Continues to Impress Off the Bench
Of all the players who were on the Clippers' roster last year, Ivica Zubac has arguably seen his role change the most. After starting all last season but riding the bench for the final stretch of every game, Zu is now doing the opposite.
The 23-year-old big man has started just once this season and is still hovering around 20 minutes per game, but all of them have been meaningful. On top of that, he's finally getting consistent minutes in the fourth quarter, and he's played exceptionally well off the bench.
Wednesday's game was a perfect example of Zu's season, as he played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter and 28 minutes overall. He made the most of his time as well, going for 10 points, a career-high 16 rebounds (10 of which came in the final frame), three blocks, two steals and an assist.
"When I came in the game in the first half, I was not as aggressive," Zubac said. "I played a little soft. I was letting them strip the ball from me, made some mistakes on the defensive end, and I was not really locked-in. At the half, I knew I had to do something different, so I came out, was more aggressive and it worked out well for us."
There are still some issues that Zu needs to shore up — ball security is a big one — but for the most part, he's been an above-average big on both ends of the floor and has received plenty of praise from teammates for the way he's adapted this season.
Clippers Finish the Road Trip on a High Note
Things weren't looking up for the LA Clippers when they began this six-game road trip, as it looked like they could be without Leonard, George and Patrick Beverley for each contest. Spirits sank even lower when they lost the first game of the trip to the Atlanta Hawks, which looked like one of the easier games on the slate. But the Clippers found a way to bounce back, as they seemingly always have this year.
Down three starters, LA responded to the loss in Atlanta with a hard-fought win over the Miami Heat. Then, the Clippers were fortunate to have Leonard and George return for the trip's final four games.
When it was all said and done, LA would go on to win four of the six games, with the only other loss coming in Brooklyn on Tuesday night.
Now, the Clippers will play eight of their next 10 contests at home — and they'll need that advantage. Four of those 10 will come against the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz (twice) and the Nets, so LA will need to be focused as they look to build upon their record and stay near the top of the Western Conference.