January 22, 2022

Short-handed Clippers trail Kings from start to finish

View Original Notice ? Short-handed Clippers trail Kings from start to finish

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LOS ANGELES — In a sense, Staples Center was the site of a pair of G League games Wednesday.

Midday, the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario – the organization’s developmental team – borrowed the arena to defeat the Salt Lake City Stars, 116-108.

By the fourth quarter of the NBA game there later that night, a trio of G League regulars spent significant time on the same court, a pair of them closing it out – and cutting it close.

Together with Terance Mann, Luke Kennard and Justise Winslow off the bench, Jay Scrubb and Keon Johnson helped bring the severely short-handed Clippers back from 25 down to within eight points before eventually succumbing in a 124-115 loss to the Sacramento Kings before a crowd of 17,217.

“They were moving way faster than we were, flying around and we couldn’t keep up in that third quarter,” Clippers Coach Tyronn Lue said. “So made some early substitutions, got our younger guys in there. They came in with some fresh legs and played pretty well.”

Both of the Clippers’ superstars were relegated to spectator status on Wednesday, as Paul George got the night off to rest following 21 games of heavy lifting. He’ll be back for Friday’s game against the Lakers, the first half of a back-to-back set that concludes with a rematch of the Kings in Sacramento on Saturday.

On Wednesday, George joined Kawhi Leonard – out indefinitely after surgery to repair a torn ACL – on the sideline for the Clippers’ third consecutive loss, this one against a Kings squad that improved to 9-14 and won its fourth game in its five most recent appearances against the Clippers at Staples Center.

The Clippers also continued to miss Nicolas Batum, who Lue said won’t be available for Friday’s game.

Playing their sixth consecutive game Wednesday without their versatile veteran (who is out in accordance with COVID healthy and safety protocols), the Clippers stumbled to 2-4 without him – and now are 11-11 overall.

“Nico is a big part of the team and the stuff he does on defense and offense is great for us,” Zubac said. “He can guard anyone out there one night; he’ll be guarding the five-man, the other night he’ll guard the point guard, pressing full-court. He’s a really smart player, high-IQ guy, and he’s a big piece of the team — we for sure miss him.”

For the first time this season, Lue started a pair of centers – 7-foot Zubac and 6-10 Serge Ibaka – and his team was competitive on the boards, winning that tally 49-38. That included 17-7 on the offensive glass, a marked improvement from Monday, when they grabbed only four offensive boards and 31 altogether.

The Clippers also finished with 35 assists – two shy of their season high, 18 more than on Monday and seven more than Sacramento. And they even made one more basket than the Kings, going 47 for 100 while Sacramento shot 46 for 88.

Credit the Kings’ success Wednesday to their sudden prowess from beyond the 3-point arc: The night after shooting just 6 for 29 from 3-point range in a 117-92 loss to the Lakers, they went 15 for 38 from deep against the Clippers.

“Some guys you want to live with making shots, and they’ve been making shots and so that’s gonna happen,” Lue said, with a nod to Jonas Valanciunas, who was the unexpected breakout shooting star for New Orleans in its victory over the Clippers, against whom he hit his first seven 3-point attempts.

“You know, Valanciunas made seven in the first (half) the other night … and how many did he make tonight? Yeah, you saw that, right? Yeah, he had zero,” said Lue of the Pelicans’ center, who went 0 for 4 from deep in a loss to Dallas on Wednesday.

“So I mean, it just happens. Going under the pick and roll we thought early with Sacramento, a lot of guys shoot 25% and under. They made some shots. That’s just how it is, try to come into it with your best game plan. Sometimes it don’t work, so you got to be able to adjust. And we did that but they kind of had it going.”

All five Kings starters scored in double figures, led by Terence Davis’ 23 points. L.A. native Chimezie Metu (USC) scored 13. And off the bench, rookie Davion Mitchell – heralded for his defense – put on an offensive clinic, finishing with 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including going 3 for 4 from deep.

With Lue’s starting big men — and rookie scorer Brandon Boston Jr., whose minutes were limited because of his recent G League workload — joining George and Leonard on the bench in the final period, the youngsters helped cut the lead to 119-111 on a pair of Johnson free throws with 1:28 left.

They got it back to 121-113 on a couple more from Mann (who scored a season-high 19 points in the loss, equaling Kennard’s total). But they couldn’t get closer.

Two days after scoring 46 points in a G League game at Staples Center, Boston, 20, showed flashes of his famed offensive flourish, energizing the Clippers with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting in 24 minutes.

And just a few hours after he scored 36 points on 15-for-30 shooting, Jay Scrubb, 21, played 16 minutes for the big-league team, contributing five points.

Johnson, 19, scored two points but was plus-14 in his 12 minutes of work.

Wednesday’s contest was the start of a four-day, two-game sequence between the teams, with Friday’s intracity showdown with the Lakers in between.

On Saturday, the Clippers will travel to Sacramento, where they’ve beaten their hosts 15 consecutive times.

“Obviously this has been a rough stretch,” Kennard said after posting a double-digit tally for the first time since Nov. 18. “But rough start to the year then I thought we kind of got back to how we needed to play, and we just played hard throughout that winning stretch that we had … I think that we’re starting to try to still learn a lot of things about each other and how we how we’re playing and how we need to play.

“But we believe in ourselves. We believe in each other. We know we have the team to win some games and now’s the time to start turning that around and like I said we believe that we can, for sure.”

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