In a classic tale of two halves, the LA Clippers turned a shaky shooting performance through 24 minutes into a dominant offensive showcase, ultimately winning their matchup with the Charlotte Hornets 113-90.
The Clippers looked discombobulated early on, particularly in the second quarter, where they scored just 13 points on 5-16 shooting. LA hit just one of their 10 three-point attempts in that quarter; shots looked flat, and the Hornets were able to stay afloat thanks to some flashy offensive creation from Rookie of the Year candidate LaMelo Ball (18 points, seven assists and zero turnovers for him on Thursday). It didn’t help that LA turned the ball over nine times in the first half, putting far too much air on their passes and throwing the ball over teammates’ heads.
Paul George, who has struggled a bit as of late after having one of his best stretches as a Clipper in April (he’s shooting just 39.8% in May), could not find his shot early on, going 2-10 in the first half. But lo and behold, both he and his squad kept shooting the long ball, and eventually, they regressed to their mean. (If you haven’t been watching this season, the Clippers’ shooting mean is very, very good.) After scoring just 44 points in the first half, LA scored 40 points in the third quarter alone, hitting eight of their 10 threes. In the fourth quarter, it was LA’s defense that returned to form, holding Charlotte to just 13 points. The Clippers still turned the ball over eight times in the second half, but when they are humming on both sides of the ball like they were on Thursday, they can get away with carelessness against an inferior Charlotte team (the Hornets rank 22nd in offensive efficiency). George finished the game with 20 points on a decent 7-17 shooting, but he found other ways to contribute, grabbing 10 boards and dishing out six assists.
Yet another bailout from Reggie Jackson
Reggie “Big Government” Jackson gave the Clippers a much-needed spark off the bench when the offense bogged down. He hit multiple threes when the shot clock was dwindling, many of which were well beyond the arc. Jackson scored 19 points, hitting five of his 12 three point attempts and finishing as a game-high +17.
As good of an offensive initiator as Jackson has been this season, he’s also done quite a bit of his damage off the ball. Five of his seven baskets were assisted on Thursday, as he often acted as a corner shooter or trailer in transition. With the reinsertion of Patrick Beverley into the starting lineup, Jackson has been playing alongside Rajon Rondo, an extremely ball-dominant guard who loves to orchestrate. Jackson’s malleability allows him to fit next to other ball-handlers while still giving LA an offensive punch.
SInce returning from his foot injury, Kawhi Leonard has been slightly less aggressive in terms of shot creation. In the six games since his return, he’s averaging 18.2 points on just 12 shots per game, well below his season average of 17.6 attempts. This passivity continued on Thursday, as the All-Star took just nine shots in 31 minutes of action.
However, in lieu of scoring, Leonard found his teammates for nine assists—one shy of his season-high. His chemistry with Ivica Zubac was on full display, finding the big man three times in pick-and-roll situations, including a beautiful drop-off pass in the lane.
Perhaps Leonard is still finding his scoring rhythm after missing about three weeks of action. While he has many talented teammates who can pick up the slack for him as the regular season winds down, he‘ll need to be LA’s primary offensive engine once again if the Clippers hope to achieve their postseason goals. Who knows—perhaps Leonard is intentionally conserving energy for the stretch run.
Jay Scrubb scores his first NBA points
Clippers rookie Jay Scrubb, whom LA drafted with the no. 55 pick in the 2020 draft, was able to score his first NBA points late in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s win. Scrubb scored four points, knocking down two free throws before hitting a layup. His teammates were fired up for him, congratulating him at the free throw line as he experienced a moment he’ll remember forever.
This was only Scrubb’s second NBA game, as he missed the majority of the season due to a foot surgery that he underwent just after being drafted.
The 6’5 shooting guard will not likely see the court in the postseason save for some garbage time minutes, but it is exciting to see him make his mark on the league just before the regular season ends.
With Thursday’s win, the Clippers now hold a 47-23 record, maintaining their hold on the no. 3 seed in the Western Conference. The no. 4-seeded Denver Nuggets (46-24) also won on Thursday, but with only two games left for each team in the regular season, the Clippers control their own destiny. They’ll face the Houston Rockets on Friday at 6 p.m.