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Clippers look unprepared in ugly loss to Grizzlies

Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

The loss wasn’t solely an inside job.

The layups, floaters and breakdowns that allowed one damaging Memphis drive after another, along with 72 points in the paint against the Clippers on Thursday, were myriad.

On one third-quarter possession, Grizzlies guard Justise Winslow dribbled upcourt as the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Reggie Jackson backpedaled, with Leonard pointing the coverage to stop the fast-break drive. Winslow coasted in for an easy layup and 13-point lead anyway, the defense parting as he neared the rim.

“Seventy-two points in the paint has got to be damn near a record,” coach Tyronn Lue said.

The Clippers could also trace their 122-94 defeat to an uncharacteristically hot shooting performance from an opponent that had made just 16 3-pointers in its last three games while shooting 19% from deep in that span. Memphis made a season-high 57% of their 3-pointers Wednesday.

That didn’t entirely explain it either, though. From the start, Lue saw his team sleep walking in Memphis.

“We didn’t have our energy,” Lue said. “I thought they were more aggressive than us.”

Leonard scored a team-high 17 points for the Clippers, who shot just 40% overall and 35% on 3-pointers and looked unprepared throughout for the Grizzlies’ combination of pace and physicality and played with little of the edge that had allowed them to beat West-leading Utah and stomp Washington’s five-game winning streak to pieces only two days earlier.

Trailing by nine with 10 minutes remaining, a hint of a comeback possible, the Clippers (23-11) instead bottomed out in the fourth quarter, outscored 33-19. They are now 0-8 this season when trailing after three quarters.

 

Memphis (14-14) was led by 20 points from reserve Tyus Jones and six players scored in double figures. Lue said he was most concerned with the team’s lack of defensive intensity and was left with less than 24 hours to find a solution, facing a Friday rematch with Memphis. Grizzlies guard Ja Morant scored 16 points but his seven assists led to 20 points for his team.

Lue had lavished praised on Morant, the second-year star, before tipoff saying it was highly unusual, and equally impressive, that a young player able to shoot whenever he wants seems to create shots for others as much as himself.

“You never really see that when you got a young star who comes to a team,” Lue said.

He showed even more respect when the game started, guarding Morant with a combination of Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Paul George in only the opening minutes. Morant scored only two points in the first quarter, an unmistakable reason why his team trailed by three even after the Clippers missed their first eight 3-pointers.

Still, there was a Memphis guard the Clippers struggled to contain. It was just Jones, the reserve who scored 13 points in his first seven minutes. When Jones checked out early in the second quarter, Morant found the room he’d lacked in the first quarter. A layup pushed the Grizzlies into a one-point lead six minutes before halftime, then he dunked a lob in transition after Marcus Morris missed a shot on the next possession.

Within the final four minutes of the first half, the Clippers trailed by eight, rallied to tie on a jumper by Morris with 78 seconds left before halftime, only to trail again by eight at the break.

The presence they established with 56 points in the paint Tuesday against Washington was nowhere to be found, with just 14 points there, and three shots at the rim, during the first two quarters. A factor, perhaps, was that the quality of shots Memphis was allowing everywhere else was too good stray from. The Clippers produced multiple wide-open shots early, but few fell. The Clippers made six of their 19 shots from deep before halftime.

Those same shots began to fall early in the second half, but so did the short-range floaters that Memphis had lobbed up and over Clippers’ defenders all night. The Clippers finished with 24 points in the paint.

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