Despite all the hullabaloo about the LA Clippers’ clutch-time deficiencies this season, they clearly out-executed the Portland Trail Blazers down the stretch Tuesday night, winning in nail-biting fashion by a final score of 113-112.
Sure, it helped that the Blazers were missing their superstar in Damian Llillard (he sat with a hamstring injury), who has been hands-down the most clutch player in the NBA this season. He’s posting a 75.4 true-shooting percentage on a 36.9% usage rate in the last five minutes of games that are within five points or less. But the Clippers were without their superstar as well, as Kawhi Leonard sat once again to manage his right foot injury (Head Coach Tyronn Lue said it was more of a precautionary decision). This meant that, down the stretch, there was no question that the ball would be in Paul George’s hand to seal the win, and he delivered.
WIth just under two minutes to go, LA found themselves down six, 109-103. It was at that point that Paul George decided the Clippers were not going to lose the game.
He began by drawing a foul on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and hitting both of his free throws. The next possession down, he found Ivica Zubac in the paint for a layup. After CJ McCollum hit a clutch three, George answered by hitting a tough layup through what seemed like a lot of contact. LA forced McCollum into a tough jumper that was offline, and George came down on the other end to hit another contested layup (no call). Portland then got a good look on a Norman Powell three the next possession, but it was off, and George was given the ball after LA snagged the rebound. He walked it up the floor, the shot clock off at this point, with the Clippers down one point. George got the switch onto McCollum, drove past him and finally forced the referees to blow their whistle by getting into the lane with 4.8 seconds left. He calmly hit both free throws to give the Clippers a one-point lead, and Portland called timeout. They inbounded the ball, got it to the man they wanted (McCollum), but George did a fantastic job of staying in front of him. With some help from Nicolas Batum, he contested McCollum’s midrange jumper, and it hit off the back iron. Clippers win.
At the end of it all, George scored or assisted on the Clippers’ last nine points, walking away with 33 points on 13-22 shooting, finishing as a team-high +10. This marks the sixth time in seven games that George has scored 32 or more points, and the Clippers have gone 6-1 in that stretch. He’s played his way firmly into the All-NBA discussion, and has been the Clippers’ savior amid their myriad injuries.
The threes weren’t falling, but LA still got it done
The Clippers are in the midst of the most efficient high-volume three-point shooting season in NBA history, currently hitting 41.9% of their threes on 34.5 attempts per game. It’s unprecedented, but clearly no longer a fluke 60 games into the season. That being said, no team is perfect, and there are still going to be nights (like Tuesday) where the ball just isn’t going in the basket.
LA went 11-38 from deep, just 28.9%. Reggie Jackson was the only player who shot over 25% from three, but he missed all five of his two-point attempts. It was an off night, but the Clippers found a way to win, holding the Blazers to just 44.7% shooting. LA has been gradually climbing the defensive rankings since the All-Star break, and they are now up to 11th in the league for the season, all while missing two of their better defenders in Patrick Beverley and Serge Ibaka.
LA also shot 65% from two-point range, well above their season average of 52.9%. It’s an encouraging sign, as these sorts of nights are bound to occur in the postseason when opposing defenses are locked in.
Boogie as a hub
While DeMarcus Cousins (11 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes) only had one assist in the box score, he acted as an excellent ball-mover on the second unit. The ball was fed to Cousins in the post seemingly every possession down, and his passing out of double-teams led to a ton of open looks, though not all of them were falling.
Without Leonard, the minutes when George sits can often be a stressful period for Clippers fans. If Cousins can revive his offensive dominance against smaller second units, it’ll be a big boost for LA while they’re short-handed.
Rondo does a bit of everything
It’s easy to forget, but Rajon Rondo was once a triple-double machine back in his Boston days. He ranks thirteenth all-time, tied with Ben Simmons with 32 for his career, though he earned his back when the pace of games was far slower and rebounds and assists were harder to come by.
He didn’t quite get there on Tuesday night, but in just 22 minutes, he put up nine points, seven assists and six rebounds. He was poised, only turning the ball over once, and did a great job of pushing the pace in transition. Though he missed all three of his threes, he was still able to be effective by driving to the basket.
Postgame, I asked DeMarcus Cousins what he saw out of Rondo, both on Tuesday night and throughout his career, as the two have now played together on four different teams.
The Clippers will have no time to recover after this close win, as they had to fly home in a hurry to welcome the Memphis Grizzlies to Staples Center the following night. The game will tip off on Wednesday at 7 p.m.