Clippers look unprepared in ugly loss to Grizzlies

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Andrew Greif
·4 min read
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Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) shoots against Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and guard Ja Morant (12)in the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Clippers guard Paul George shoots against Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and guard Ja Morant (12) in the second half on Thursday in Memphis, Tenn. (Brandon Dill / Associated Press)

Every coach looks at a box score differently. Some start by glancing at turnovers. Others compare assists to field goals.

By the sound of Tyronn Lue’s sighs Thursday, during his postgame videoconference from Memphis, it seemed clear where he had begun his autopsy of a 28-point loss.

“Seventy-two points in the paint got to be damn near a record,” Lue said, his frustration evident behind a black mask.

Not a record, but it was the eighth-most points given up by a team in the paint this season and fueled a 122-94 Grizzlies rout. In that way, and others, the result might have been read as a perfect storm that sank the Western Conference’s second-ranked team. After shooting an abysmal 19% behind the three-point arc in its last three games, making 16 combined, Memphis made 11 of its 19, recording a season-high 57%.

Lue’s Clippers have to hope this performance was an outlier, anyway.

Because not since a 51-point thrashing against Dallas during the season’s first week have the Clippers lost by so much and generated so little of the type of impact that is necessary to win in the NBA yet can’t be quantified in any box score.

“We didn’t have a lot of energy,” Lue said. “I thought they were more aggressive than us. More physical. They brought physicality to the game, and we didn’t come prepared for that physicality. You see the result.”

Kawhi Leonard scored 17 points, Paul George added 13 and the Clippers, the most accurate three-point shooting team this season, made 12 of their 34 from deep (35%). Though this was only the third time this season they have lost when making more three-pointers than their opponent, they are also now 12-0 when making 16 or more three-pointers this season and 11-11 when not.

This looked little like the razor-sharp performances that helped the Clippers beat West-leading Utah and stomp Washington’s five-game winning streak to pieces within the past week. George was “absolutely” glad that the team had fewer than 24 hours to dwell on the performance before Friday’s rematch.

“They dared us — myself, Kawhi, Lou [Williams] — they dared us to move the ball and get the ball out of our hands, so they did a really good job of just showing bodies and, you know, giving us tough looks,” George said. “But we got to have a counter for it. We’ll have a counter for it tomorrow.”

The Clippers missed their first eight three-pointers. After locking down Memphis star Ja Morant — whose athleticism George compared to a Chicago-era Derrick Rose — to two first-quarter points, they were a sieve defensively. Morant finished with 16 points, with seven assists that created 20 points, and backup guard Tyus Jones scored 20 in 15 minutes off the bench.

“For the most part,” Leonard said, “our defense was passive.”

For all those misses and miscommunications, the Clippers (23-11) sliced what had been a 17-point deficit with four minutes remaining in the third quarter to nine with 10 minutes to play in regulation, a hole that could have been more than manageable for a roster with the NBA’s third-highest offensive rating facing the 14th-ranked defense.

Instead, the Grizzlies (14-14) finished on a 30-11 run so thoroughly deflating Lue pulled his starters with half the quarter to play. His team is 0-8 when trailing after the third quarter, with the latest loss undone by the combination of Memphis’ pace and physicality.

“My biggest concern right now is we got to be better defensively,” Lue said. “I know we’ll be able to score the basketball, we’re going to make shots, but defensively is where we got to be better, we got to take the challenge, starting with myself first, and what we need to do better and do differently, as far as stopping these guys from getting in the paint so easy.”

UP NEXT

At MEMPHIS

When: 5 P.M. FRIDAY

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1220

Update: Paul George said it was to Memphis’ benefit that their young roster had not played since Monday. Both teams will now be on level ground. The Clippers are 5-0 on the second night of a back-to-back.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.