A day after they were undone by the greatest shooter in NBA history, the Clippers’ attempts to get back on track Monday were thwarted by an even more dangerous offensive weapon.
The New Orleans center made one 3-pointer in his first five seasons before blooming into a capable, if not prolific, deep shooter amid the last half of his career but against the Clippers this season, and Monday in particular, he made Stephen Curry’s second-half show from one day earlier inside Staples Center look positively inefficient.
Less than two weeks after making a then-career high five 3-pointers in a win over the Clippers, Valanciunas made his first seven 3-pointers Monday to riddle the league’s second-ranked defense on his way to 39 points, 15 rebounds and a 123-104 Pelicans win.
In one 66-second stretch of the half, Valanciunas made three 3-pointers to induce groans inside the arena while pushing the Pelicans’ lead to 21.
It was a jarring finish to a first half that began with so much promise for the Clippers — just as this team began November with seven consecutive wins, only to finish it with six losses in its last nine games.
Looking nothing like the team that committed 26 turnovers while mustering only 90 points Sunday against Golden State, the Clippers scored on their first five possessions. Perhaps the most promising development was reserve center Serge Ibaka’s strongest performance since returning from the G League last week, as he made three of his first four 3-pointers for 13 points.
The Clippers shot 51% overall, their best shooting night since Nov. 13, and 38% from behind the 3-point arc, but there were ominous signs when New Orleans (6-17) matched them shot for shot, making seven of their first eight field goals, and didn’t slow down behind Valanciunas’ offensive outburst.
Paul George scored 27 points and Reggie Jackson scored 19 after being held scoreless Sunday.
“We were due for a bad defensive game,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “We just couldn’t stop them.”