With the NBA trade deadline dominating the news, it’s easy to forget that actual games were played on Thursday. One of those games involved the LA Clippers and San Antonio Spurs, and the Clippers won said matchup 98-85.
To say that the Clippers were short-handed would be an understatement. Not only did LA continue to miss Patrick Beverley (right knee soreness) and Serge Ibaka (lower back tightness), but they also lost Kawhi Leonard to right foot soreness and Marcus Morris Sr. to a right calf contusion. To top it off, Lou Williams was traded to Atlanta earlier in the day, and his replacement Rajon Rondo was obviously unable to make it to San Antonio in time to play (the trade technically hadn’t even been finalized before tipoff).
LA was missing five rotation players in all, but it didn’t matter. While it wasn’t the prettiest offensive game (LA shot 38% from the field and San Antonio shot 40%), the Clippers were able to grind out a victory by destroying the Spurs on the glass. LA outrebounded San Antonio 57-39, marking their highest rebounding total of the season. They were also able to get a ton of second chance points thanks in large part to Ivica Zubac, who grabbed seven offensive rebounds (the Clippers led the Spurs 14-2 in offensive boards). In games where both teams are operating on limited offensive firepower and energy (this was San Antonio’s fifth game in seven nights), defense, rebounding, and maintaining possession are crucial.
"I thought the effort was great,” Head Coach Tyronn Lue said postgame. “I thought our defense carried us the whole night."
Reggie Jackson’s season-high
The Clippers were in desperate need of an offensive kick, as they were missing four of their top five scorers and playing against a top-10 defense. Reggie Jackson answered the call, going for a season-high 28 points on 8-16 shooting and 5-10 from downtown. Jackson’s jumpshot looked pure, as it has all season (41% from three this year), and with all of the Spurs’ attention being pointed at Paul George, Jackson was able to knock down some easy looks off the catch.
Jackson also earned LA a ton of easy points by driving to the rim and drawing fouls. Jackson went to the line seven times on Thursday, and didn’t miss a single free throw attempt. Drawing fouls has been something the Clippers have struggled with all season, so Jackson’s aggression was a welcome sign.
PG: the other boardman
Paul George had quite a load to carry on Thursday. He was the no-brainer go-to option for LA on offense, and had to force up some tough, contested shots at the rim. George’s finishing/free throw frustrations continued, as he went to the line just three times despite fourteen shots at the rim.
“I'm still trying to figure it out,” George said postgame when asked about the lack of whistles. “I got 35,000 reasons to explain it but I'm going to keep it to myself."
Still, George finished the game with 24 points, though it was on a rough 10-28 shooting night. However, he found other ways to be effective. He grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds, in addition to his usual stellar perimeter defense. With Ibaka, Morris and Leonard out, George often played up a position, and grabbed boards as if he were a power forward. It’s encouraging to see George step up despite his shooting struggles and contribute to his team’s success with hustle.
The team laments the Lou Will trade
The postgame news conference was dominated by questions about the Williams-Rondo trade, and the Clippers spoke about what Williams meant to them as a player and teammate.
“Very bitter,” Lue said. “Just tough letting him go...this is the toughest part of the business. Especially for me being traded a few times and knowing how that is. We're going to miss Lou dearly.”
"Lou was my vet,” Terance Mann added. “He taught me how to be a pro...He always picked me up when things were going bad. He always checked in on me on and off the court...I'm definitely going to miss him."
"Bittersweet,” George summarized. “Sad day for the Clipper family."
It is still unclear whether Williams’ replacement, Rajon Rondo, will be available to play on Saturday against the 76ers (tipoff is at 7 p.m.). LA will need all the healthy bodies they can get if these injuries to their core continue to sustain.