LOS ANGELES — For the past six weeks, the Clippers have done everything right. Strong effort combined with highly rated offensive accuracy. Elite defense and a willingness to sacrifice in the name of winning. They were principles Coach Tyronn Lue said the team couldn’t abandon because adversity was coming.
Trouble found them Sunday against the Lakers.
Suddenly, the Clippers looked disjointed on offense, missing 55 shots from the field and 13 from 3-point range. Their best shooters were off their game, missing tip-ins, and routine midrange jumpers.
Then there were the turnovers – 11 in the second half — that led to a 106-103 loss to their inter-arena rivals and snapping their five-game winning streak.
“We were hesitant on a couple of shots, and we just didn’t play a good offensive game,” Lue said. “I just told our guys at halftime it was a bad flow to the game offensively. I thought our defense was pretty good, but offensively we couldn’t get in the flow and get into a rhythm.
“I thought (Lakers coach Darvin) Ham did a good job just mixing up his coverages, doing different things, switching, sometimes blitzing, sometimes firing. They did a good job of trying to keep us off balance and like I said, our guys — PG (Paul George), Kawhi and James — never really got going offensively.”
And yet, they had a chance to win the game, but Norman Powell’s potential game-tying 3-pointer rimmed out, giving the Lakers their second victory against the Clippers this season.
It wasn’t the Clippers’ only shot at extending their winning streak. They missed eight attempts to take the lead in the final five minutes which might have produced a different outcome.
“I got to look (at the film) again, but I thought we got some decent shots in that fourth quarter, and we just couldn’t make it,” Lue said. “We didn’t capitalize on it.”
The Clippers fell behind by 10 (94-84) on Anthony Davis’ 17-foot pull-up jumper with 8:19 remaining but were able to pull even at 98 on three foul shots by Powell with 2:19 left. From there, the offense stalled.
“I don’t know how many steals they had but we had a lot of turnovers and that allowed them to get a lot of easy ones in the second half and I think that hurt us the most,” Ivica Zubac said. “We just turned it over too much. And we took some bad shots on offense, heavily contested. That’s it. But we will be better.”
Concerned about playing Leonard too much in the first game of a back-to-back, Lue pulled the two-time Finals MVP in favor of Terance Man with 2:47 left to play. But with the Lakers holding a two-point lead, 103-101, Lue sent Leonard back out there with 17 seconds left.
“I mean, I would love to be on the floor and play, but I mean, it is what it is,” Leonard said. “We got more games to play. You know, that’s how it rolled out tonight.”
Leonard struggled offensively, many times passing up potentially good looks. The team’s leading scorer at 24.4 points a game, Leonard finished with 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting.
“They just did a good job of shrinking the floor,” Leonard said. “You know, just contesting every shot. It just didn’t fall for me.”
George and Zubac each scored 22 points and Zubac had 19 rebounds, his 100th career double-double. James Harden made just 4 of 13 shots for 15 points.
Zubac found a positive among the wreckage. The Clippers play again Monday against the Phoenix Suns.
“Best thing about the NBA — you play tomorrow,” Zubac said. “So, if we win (tomorrow), who cares about this one. Nobody will remember the last game and that’s all it is. We got another one tomorrow. Go get a win. That’s it.”