The Clippers broke another opponent’s winning streak on Tuesday night, this time defeating the Washington Wizards (winners of five straight games) in dominating fashion by a score of 135-116.
The Clippers wasted no time in blowing the doors off of the Wizards early on, scoring 36 points in the first quarter and holding the Wizards to just 20. This dominance continued through the second quarter, as LA at one point went on a 21-3 run and led by as many as 24 points. The Clippers put up about as perfect of an offensive half as one could ask for—scoring 72 points on 61% shooting and 47% from three. The game felt as good as over heading into halftime.
However, Washington refused to die, and put up a fight in the third quarter that was indicative of why they’d won five straight games and are slowly saving their season. They scored 39 points in the third quarter and held the Clippers to just 17, cutting the lead down to five points and setting themselves up for a monumental comeback heading into the fourth quarter. It was an interesting (albeit stressful) role reversal for the Clippers, who are usually the ones suffocating teams in the third quarter. Coming into Tuesday’s game, the Clippers held the second-highest net rating in the league in third quarters, outscoring teams by an average of 11.8 points per 100 possessions and trailing only the league-destroying Utah Jazz.
It is unclear why the Clippers were so uncharacteristic against Washington in that third quarter. Perhaps they took their foot off the gas after accruing such a sizable lead by halftime, or perhaps credit should be given to Washington’s defense (though they rank 26th in the league on that side of the ball). Regardless, it was essentially a new game heading into the final 12 minutes, and LA needed to refocus.
“They can score the basketball,” Head Coach Tyronn Lue said plainly after the game. “I mean, they scored the ball great all year. Coming in, on a five-game win streak, they went small, had a lot of shooters on the floor. And they were able to make plays. I mean, it’s going to happen. It’s a game of runs. But we came back with a run of our own.”
They did indeed. The fourth quarter nearly mirrored the first, as the Clippers outscored the Wizards 36-21, converting the game back to the blowout it should’ve always been. Despite another excellent offensive performance from the league-leading scorer in Bradley Beal (28 points to go along with 10 assists on the night), the Clippers were able to pull away behind dual offensive showcases from their two All-Stars.
Kawhi and PG: dynamic duo
Here’s a fun stat: Tuesday night marked the first time all season that both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George scored 30 points or more in the same game. Leonard (32 points) went to work in the midrange as he does, while George (30 points) did a little of everything: posting up a bit, taking defenders off the dribble, and moving off of pindowns for open looks. George’s supreme three-point shooting continued against the Wizards, as he hit six of his seven attempts. George scored 25 points in the first half alone, perhaps playing off the high of learning he’d just made his seventh All-Star team a couple hours before tipoff.
“You dig deep and you would be amazed at what comes out of it.” George said when asked about the significance of the accolade. “It’s a good milestone to start how my season is going, but definitely not where I want it to end. Got a lot more work to do.”
Zu catches a body
It wasn’t hard to pick out the best highlight from Tuesday night’s game. Midway through the fourth quarter, Ivica Zubac caught the ball at the free throw line, swarmed by two seven-footers in Robin Lopez and Davis Bertans. Zubac quickly surveyed the floor before deciding to commit murder, blowing right by Lopez before taking off at the dotted line and slamming Bertans into oblivion with a nasty one-handed jam. Zubac, who has been consistently reminded by coaches to play with aggression around the rim, looked to his bench with a smirk after the dunk.
Bench steps up in Lou Will’s absence
Tyronn Lue gave Lou Williams the night off to rest, (there’s no medical issue, according to Lue), and the remaining bench mob picked up the slack for the 34-year-old Sixth Man. Four Clippers (Zubac, Marcus Morris Sr., Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann) scored in double-figures off the bench, combining for 52 points. The chemistry amongst this second unit is palpable. Lue makes sure to stagger Leonard and George so that one of them is always on the floor with the bench unit, but they do an excellent job of making defenses pay if they load up on whichever star is on the floor. They know their roles to a T, and execute defensively (Terance Mann has made significant strides on that end).
Next up on LA’s docket, the Clippers will make the journey to Memphis for a two-game series against Ja Morant and the Grizzlies. LA looks to close out the first half of the season strong before entering the All-Star break.