The LA Clippers gave up a frustrating loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night, losing by a score of 122-94.
The game was ugly on both ends for the Clippers. On one side of the ball, LA gave up a ridiculous amount of points in the paint to Memphis (70 of their 122 points). It was a team effort for the Grizzlies, as Dillon Brooks (19 points), Ja Morant (16 points), Jonas Valanciunas (16 points) and unlikely hero Tyus Jones (20 points off the bench, a season-high) all attacked the basket relentlessly, hitting tough floaters (a shot that Memphis takes and makes more than any other team in the league). The Clippers’ drop coverage of the pick-and-roll offered little resistance at the rim.
On the other end, LA’s offense looked stagnant and flat-out lazy at times, settling for contested midrange jump shots and not moving the ball as they usually do. The offense also suffered as a result of their poor defense; LA forced just six Grizzlies turnovers, including only one in the first half. Without these turnovers, the Clippers were unable to push in transition and seek out easy baskets.
Though LA was only down eight at halftime, they once again were unable to flip their usual third-quarter switch and adjust to the Grizzlies’ superior execution. By the time the midway point of the fourth quarter rolled around, the game was a straight-up blowout, and Head Coach Tyronn Lue elected to clear his bench and conserve his rotation players’ energy for Friday night, the second night of their back-to-back two-game series against Memphis.
It isn’t quite fair to highlight a single player’s struggles in a game where the fast majority of the team had an off-night, but Paul George looked particularly uncomfortable, attempting and missing inefficient, off-balance shots and struggling to pass out to shooters as the defense collapsed onto him. He finished the game with just 13 points (his second-lowest output of the season) on an ugly 3-12 shooting performance. George gave credit to the Grizzlies’ defense during his postgame interview
“They dared us,” George said. “Myself, Kawhi [Leonard], Lue [Williams], they dared us to move the ball and get the ball out of our hands. They did a really good job of just showing bodies and giving us tough looks. But we need to have a counter for it. We’ll have a counter for it tomorrow and we’ll play better tomorrow.”
Batum trending in the wrong direction
It’s been flying under the radar, but Nicolas Batum has fallen off a bit from three-point range after setting the league on fire throughout the first quarter of the Clippers’ season. Though he is still shooting 44% from deep for the year, Batum is just 4-15 (27%) from three in his last six games. He’s also been less aggressive in terms of attempts, refusing to take more than three shots from behind the arc in any of those six games. This may just be a blip, but if Batum cannot return to the flamethrower he’s been throughout the season, the Clippers offense will not be quite as threatening come playoff time. Batum’s spacing is crucial, even if he’s just a decoy. If his percentages dip enough, defenses might be willing to leave him and pay more attention to the Clippers’ two stars.
Ja Morant: Neo-Derrick Rose?
Paul George made an astute comparison after the game, aligning Ja Morant with a former MVP.
"He's just fun to watch,” George said. “There's no other explanation. He's so athletic, he's so gifted, he's so agile. I could compare him to Derrick Rose with his explosiveness and his ability to shift his body and move his body in the air. He just makes highlight plays after highlight plays."
The resemblance to Rose is noticeable. There are plenty of athletic point guards in today’s NBA, but Morant’s ability to contort in midair and reevaluate his situation without sacrificing his finishing angles is unparalleled (save for Zion Williamson, who's a whole other form of freak). In his prime, Rose was a master at this, and took contact in the paint like he was made of rubber. As it turns out, he wasn’t. As indestructible as Murant seems, perhaps he should take this comparison as both a compliment and a warning of caution.
The Clippers will return to their team hotel, unwind for a bit, and promptly return to the FedEx forum for game 2 of their double-header against the Grizzlies, tipping off on Friday at 5 p.m.