The Los Angeles Clippers seemed convinced that, even in the prolonged and ongoing absence of Kawhi Leonard, they had discovered the path to consistent success.
With nine members of the rotation. excluding Leonard. averaging more than 17 minutes per game, the Clippers had come to rely upon their depth to wear down the opposition. Their multitude of options served them well on both ends of the court during a stretch of five wins over six games before the Brooklyn Nets pulled away late for a 110-95 victory on Saturday.
The Clippers, who will visit the Houston Rockets on Monday for the third matchup between the teams already this season, must recommit to playing in a manner that best suits their roster without Leonard, who remains sidelined with right knee injury management.
Leonard has participated in only two games this season with the last one coming on Oct. 23 against the Phoenix Suns.
“We didn’t do a good job following the game plan and that’s my fault, that’s on me as far as attacking, getting mismatches, getting into the paint and making the right play,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said. “And tonight we just didn’t do that. We didn’t play a good game.”
Against the Nets, star Paul George missed 16 of 21 shots yet scored a team-high 17 points. The Clippers got 16 points apiece from Norman Powell and Ivica Zubac, with that duo combining to shoot a robust 12 of 22 from the floor. But Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann and Nicolas Batum combined to shoot 6 of 20.
“Offensively, I think we kind of got a little stagnant; holding the ball a little bit,” Powell said. “A little (isolation play) not making them have to work defensively. … (It’s) just little things that we have to clean up. Continue to work the offense and find the best look.”
Much like the Clippers, the Rockets fell apart late on Saturday, surrendering a 33-point fourth quarter on the road to the New Orleans Pelicans in a 119-106 loss. Houston led by one point entering the final quarter, led by as many as eight in the fourth, and remained tied with just under three minutes remaining before allowing the Pelicans to close the game on a 13-0 run.
Late losses have been a familiar refrain for the Rockets, who have shown a tendency to rally from sizable deficits only to fall short at the final buzzer. The Pelicans led by as many as 18 points in the second half before the Rockets mustered the will to fight back behind their bench.
What the Rockets haven’t discovered is how to finish the job.
“Part of it is experience for sure,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “Going through those times over and over and over again, learning from them and continuing to do the things that got you to that point.
“We’ve just got to learn how to win at the end. That’s it. And experience is the best teacher. Going through this, as painful as it is, we learn from it.”
–Field Level Media