LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are expected to be without All-Star wing Paul George for the remainder of the regular season and potentially the first round of the playoffs, making advancing deep into the postseason more difficult.
But the Clippers need to get there first and Saturday’s 131-110 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans didn’t point them in the right direction.
With just seven games left before the postseason begins, the Clippers (39-36) need to stack up victories to hold onto their spot in the top half of the Western Conference and avoid the Play-In Tournament. A 21-point defeat was not the way to go, especially if Kawhi Leonard misses any games after suffering a facial contusion.
From the start, the Pelicans, who were missing star Zion Williamson (hamstring) outhustled the Clippers at Crypto.com Arena. New Orleans raced out to an 8-0 lead and, it didn’t get much better for the Clippers as the game progressed. Brandon Ingram and Trey Murphy III were just getting warmed up.
The two Pelicans stars bombarded the Clippers from behind the 3-point line all game, finishing with a combined 13 3-pointers. Ingram scored a team-high 32 points, his second consecutive 30-point game, behind 12-of-22 shooting including three 3-pointers. He also contributed 12 assists and four rebounds in three quarters.
Murphy III finished with 32 points on a career-high 10 of 12 3-pointers and 9 of 12 shots overall. There was little the Clippers could do.
Overall, the Pelicans made 21 of 34 3-point attempts, compared to the Clippers’ -5 of 33
“To start the game, I thought they were faster than us,” Coach Tyronn Lue said. “They got out in transition. They created mismatches in transition because of the way they pushed it.
“We weren’t able to get back and get matched. Ingram came out and got to his spots early in the game. We tried to double team Ingram, which opened up Murphy to get 3’s. You just kind of pick your poison.”
For the Clippers to be effective during George’s absence, Lue said the team needs to play with increased energy. The pace needs to be amped up and that can’t rest with their trio of energetic guards – Rusell Westbrook, Bones Hyland and Terance Mann. Leonard must be part of the mix.
“For him (Leonard) to play fast and attack early in transition or early in the clock, that helps him out because now teams aren’t getting back, getting set or able to double team him as much,” Lue said.
Leonard didn’t factor into the Clippers offense much, finishing with a quiet 12 points, six rebounds and four assists before leaving the game in the fourth quarter. Lue didn’t have an update on the star forward.
“Tonight, was a tough night,” Lue said. When both of them were off (George and Leonard) and when you play against a team that’s pretty good, you struggle.”
Eric Gordon made all three of his long-range shots and finished with 15 points, while three others scored in double figures.
The Clippers discovered it difficult to step up the pace when the Pelicans were running circles around them. Not only did they fail to stop Ingram and Murphy III, but the Clippers were also outrebounded (45 to 31), turned the ball over 20 times, scored just four second-chance points and gave up 54 points in the paint.
“I thought they really came out to attack us tonight and they did that,” Lue said. “On the offensive end, 20 turnovers for 28 points are too many, especially for a fast team like this. You can’t allow turnovers and expect to get back and get matched in transition so, it was a tough game for us tonight.
“They played well. Hats off to them.”