It was all there — the crisp passes, the elite capturing, the suffocating protection that infused the Clippers with an offseason perception they’re championship-caliber.
Only one drawback. This was all right here, too, for the Clippers in a 119-114 loss Friday inside Wells Fargo Middle — the maddening inconsistency, the offensive malaise and an incapacity to string collectively a full sport, issues which have change into a extra common sight than glimpses of their full potential.
Main by as many as 20 earlier than halftime in maybe their sharpest half of any sport this season, towards a Philadelphia 76ers staff that had gained six in a row, the Clippers as an alternative turned what would have been their most spectacular victory into a very notable missed alternative.
“We played the game the right way the first half, we played downhill, we played with pace, we defended — that’s just who we are regardless of who we play,” stated wing Paul George, who scored 22 factors. “The challenge is doing that for a full game and that’s just, again, where we’re lacking.
“We haven’t yet identified with that, I guess, persona for the team, a team that’s just going to finish you.”
George stated as a lot after a loss at Oklahoma Metropolis within the season’s second week. Practically two months later, what’s going to it take to succeed in that breakthrough?
“I’m not sure,” George stated. “We just have lapses.
“I think we just got to approach the two halves as zero-zero. Hopefully that shift gets us playing a little faster, a little better, a little bit more intense, better focus because I think whether we won the games or not, we’ve been in these positions a lot — too many times this season.”
Philadelphia heart Joel Embiid scored 10 of his 44 factors within the fourth quarter as “M-V-P” chants echoed throughout his free throws with 11 seconds left. Guard James Harden not solely scored 20 factors however dished a career-high 21 assists, whereas including 11 rebounds. In all, Harden was answerable for 67 factors.
They had been brutally efficient at instances. And, the Clippers felt, they might have been put away.
“We had our chances, we just didn’t play smart the whole game,” coach Tyronn Lue stated. “When we got up we made some key mistakes and some bad plays.”
Friday was the tenth sport since Kawhi Leonard, who scored 28 factors, and George returned from accidents collectively in a Dec. 5 win towards Charlotte. In that span the Clippers had gone 6-3, getting into Friday, with a mix of the league’s fourth-best defensive score and its fourth-best three-point capturing, at 39.9%.
Every was a constructing block of a first-half lead that grew to twenty with 3:37 remaining within the second quarter. Philadelphia took solely three free throws earlier than halftime, eight fewer than its first-half common, the Clippers executing their emphasis of defending with out fouling. It additionally made solely 4 of its 14 three-pointers. Philadelphia turned the ball over solely 3 times, however every was adopted by a Clippers basket — a Norman Powell layup after a strip of Embiid, a George layup after he tapped the ball from Harden.
John Wall was held out after spraining his proper ankle for the second time in as many weeks — he’s hopeful to play Dec. 26, in Detroit — however with the ballhandling dealt with by committee, the Clippers’ bench unit appeared as sharp because it has all season. Reserves made 9 of their 13 pictures within the first half — an help main to each basket however one. In opposition to a Sixers protection that ranked second within the league at limiting opponents’ makes an attempt from deep, the Clippers made 10 of their 19 three-pointers within the first half.
However the closing three minutes of the primary half had been ominous as their lead was minimize to 12, harking back to the best way, Wednesday night time, Charlotte methodically minimize a 36-point deficit to 14, a rally jump-started within the third quarter, when it outscored the Clippers by eight.
Two days later, Philadelphia gained the third quarter by 12 factors. Leonard didn’t see parallels between the losses — turnovers had been the issue towards Charlotte, transition protection the problem Friday, he stated. However the change in power and focus appeared the identical to George.
When former Clippers coach Doc Rivers ran a second 76ers defender at George and Leonard, the Clippers froze. Fellow starters Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson, typical launch valves when opponents blitz, shot a mixed 5 of 15.
“We didn’t do a good job of playing smart and playing to our strengths when teams do blitz us,” Lue stated.
A nook three-pointer by Nicolas Batum pushed the Clippers right into a one-point lead with 4 minutes to play.
The Clippers by no means made one other basket.
“It’s good that when we get it rolling to see what it really looks like,” stated Jackson, who had 4 factors, and was a minus-13. “That’s reassuring, that sticks with me, for sure, but just the way that we keep having these lulls at times, too long of lulls — you’re going to have some throughout the game but we’ve got to find a way to nip it in the bud as soon as possible.”