Clippers find irony in scoring struggles before losing to Jazz

The Clippers’ steadfast point guard pulled out an invisible dictionary.

How was it possible that these Clippers were the last points in the NBA after nine games earlier in the season? In offensive efficiency? These Clippers – who even continue to miss Kawhi Leonard – with Paul George, John Wall, Norman Powell and a crew of veteran talent capable of scoring 30 points on any given night?

So guard Reggie Jackson, who had struggled from the field to a 36% shooting start, extravagantly laid it in the locker room ahead of Sunday night’s game at the Arena:

“Definitely, it’s an oxymoron,” Jackson said. “All the talent we’ve acquired, all the offensive firepower we’ve got, we [have] one of the worst offensive ratings. So it’s just a little bit ironic.”

Not one of them – actually the worst, taking on upstart Utah Jazz on Sunday night. George played his part and started the season with an average of 23.8 points. Something had to give way around him.

But the Clippers just couldn’t get enough on Sunday, the oxymoron growing, a red-hot 34-point George only for the team to fall 110-102 against a feisty Jazz squad. The loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Clippers (5-5).

After having 15 points in the first quarter, George snagged a rebound in the second with the Clippers 46-40 behind and went to work, drawing a foul.

Then came the smoothness, the sweat-free grips that make George’s monster plays seem almost effortless, the shuffling and shaking for a hop-step floater. Then a drive into Kelly Olynyk from the Jazz, which shoved him out of the way and finished a sweet left-handed layup. Then a stare from Olynyk, a kickout, a back pass and a three on Olynyk.

Suddenly, with three minutes left in the first half, George had 24 points and the Clippers had reduced their deficit to one point.

Utah's Kelly Olynyk shoots in front of Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. during Sunday's Clippers loss.

Utah’s Kelly Olynyk shoots in front of Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. during Sunday’s Clippers loss.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Utah Jazz guard Talen Horton-Tucker shoots between Clippers center Ivica Zubac and forward Robert Covington.

Utah Jazz guard Talen Horton-Tucker (center) shoots between Clippers center Ivica Zubac (left) and forward Robert Covington in the first half.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

But the Jazz, sensing the absence of a certain 7-foot Croatian on the ground, took the momentum back.

Before the game, Jackson shook his head and his eyes widened at the thought: Clippers starting center Ivica Zubac was first in the NBA in blocks per game for nine games.

“Yeah, it’s crazy,” Jackson said.

This wasn’t Rudy Gobert from Minnesota or Jaren Jackson Jr. from Memphis or Myles Turner from Indiana. This was the Clippers’ Croatian mainstay, the 7-foot-tall, fun-loving Zubac, who had never scored more than a block per game in his seven NBA seasons but was suddenly batting away an NBA best of 2.8 shots per game.

“It was a nice start,” Jackson said, “and I think that was definitely a nice little bright spot in what’s going on right now.”

Everything that’s going on now is defining: no timetable for Leonard’s return from coach Tyronn Lue’s knee strain, some of the Clippers’ role players struggling to find their stride; Lue continues to tinker with a wealth of veteran talent. It made Zubac indispensable – and when he wasn’t on the ground, the Jazz took advantage.

In the second quarter, after Utah rained down a parade of three-pointers in the first quarter, Utah flashed off the floor to the rim with Zubac – Olynyk strayed off the three-point line for a propulsive layup, Collin Sexton carved his way to the rim, Lauri Markannen drew dirt from the interior. Suddenly the Clippers were down 63-56 at halftime.

help was on the way. John Wall, the Clippers’ biggest offseason acquisition and former All-NBA squad with the Washington Wizards, was frustrated for most of the night. And then the speed that once produced nighttime highlights ignited.

But his explosiveness was matched in the fourth by Sexton, who hung to one-and-one, taking the Jazz 104-98 with three minutes to go.

And with a minute remaining, it was Olynyk’s turn to exact revenge on George, pushing his way into the paint and draining Sexton for an exclamation mark dunk that sealed the win.



When: 7:30pm PST Monday

In the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal, NBA TV; Radio: 570, 1220

To update: The Cavaliers (8-1) have the second-best record in the NBA after beating the Lakers 114-100 for their eighth straight game on Sunday. The Clippers have to contend with former Utah Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, who is averaging fourth-best 31.4 points per game and 6.5 assists for Cleveland. Clippers find irony in scoring struggles before losing to Jazz

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