Clippers Postgame: Lethargic Clippers falter late, lose to Utah 120-107

Joe Morgan of Sporting News and Sabreena Merchant of Clippers Maven discuss the team’s defeat.
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Kawhi Leonard got a screen from Ivica Zubac on the pick-and-roll late in the fourth quarter and attempted to thread a bounce pass to the Clippers center on one of his best nights of the season.

But Zubac fumbled the ball, the Jazz jumped out on the break, and Joe Ingles hit Bojan Bogdanovic in the corner for the transition three to put Utah up seven. 

The wrong Croatian had the biggest moment on Heritage Night at Staples Center as the Clippers were scoreless the rest of the way, losing to Utah 120-107. 

Zubac had 15 points and 12 rebounds in a season-high 27 minutes, but he and the Clippers did most of their damage in the first quarter. Without Montrezl Harrell due to illness and later down Patrick Beverley due to a right wrist injury, the Clippers ran out of gas down the stretch and were outscored by 12 points in the final period. 

Doc Rivers said that there were flu-like symptoms spreading around the locker room. Harrell was a late scratch, and his absence was announced only an hour before tip-off. Rivers said that Leonard was feeling it too; he could have sat but chose to play with Harrell out. 

Paul George felt fine coming into Staples Center Saturday, but started to feel the effects during the course of the game. 

"I looked around, and asked 'is anyone else feeling like this?' Honestly it just came out of nowhere," George said postgame. "Body was cramping, tightening up. I was trying to leave everything out there, but there wasn't anything to leave."

After a strong opening quarter that ended with a 10-point Clippers lead, the team seemed to be lacking energy the rest of the way, and missing Harrell only exacerbated the impact. 

Beverley's injury robbed the Clippers of another source of their trademark spark. After leaving the game near the start fo the third quarter, Beverley attempted to come back in the fourth with his wrist wrapped up. He even blocked a Georges Niang lay-up with his affected hand, but had difficulty even controlling the ball with the injury and had to be subbed out shortly afterwards. 

Under imperfect circumstances, the Clippers needed their two stars to be at their best. Leonard and George didn't even come close to that. 

The two finished 12-of-44 from the field for a combined 39 points, and they both had to log 36 minutes. Leonard didn't have his jumper going early and made a concerted effort to get into the lane, but once he was there, he missed an uncharacteristic number of shots at the rim. 

George has been in a bit of a shooting slump, as he's averaging 32% from the field over the last four contests. In addition to the sudden onset of flu symptoms during the game, George said he hasn't been as aggressive as he needs to be looking for his shot. Part of that is because he still isn't entirely comfortable with his surgically-repaired shoulders. 

"Last year before the injury, I was finishing through contact, defenders. This year, I've been almost shying away from it. It's just getting it through my head that I'm fine with the physicality," George said. "I just watched a lot of clips, and I've shied away from contact. I've got to get over that hump."

While the Clippers lost their way as the game went on, the Jazz are finding their way collectively. Ingles got the team going with three first-quarter 3-pointers, Jordan Clarkson provided a spark off the bench, and Rudy Gobert wore down Zubac late. But the constant throughout was Donovan Mitchell, who has become a Clipper killer. 

Mitchell has averaged 30 points over his last seven games against the Clippers on sterling efficiency. L.A. has done an outstanding job of containing opposing wings this season, but Mitchell presents a different challenge that the Clippers haven't yet figured out, despite their depth of perimeter defenders. 

"I don't know the answer, clearly, because we have not done a good job on him yet," Rivers said. "He is way, way, way too comfortable against us. We either are going to do something about that or he's going to keep doing it. He's not going to turn it off, that's for sure."

Mitchell kept pouring it on Saturday, and the Jazz followed his lead, taking a 2-1 advantage in the season series between the two teams.