Clippers lose to Atlanta Hawks for their sixth consecutive loss

The coach’s words before the tip sounded like a battle cry.

His lineup decisions led to a changing of the guard.

The result of the Clippers’ attempts to turn that roster into a new version of themselves: a 112-108 loss to Atlanta for a Clippers team that’s still stuck idle as it passes halfway through the NBA season and is still unable to gain a foothold on the table, which is still nowhere near its touted potential after 48 minutes that felt like a microcosm of the last 41 games.

Outnumbered again with Paul George sidelined in the second game in a row with his hamstring, the Clippers attempted a new starting line-up that allowed an authoritative start and a playful lead before staging a second-half revival that left that team badly needed.

The Clippers were trailing mediocre Atlanta at 2 p.m. halftime, a team plagued by questions about their leadership and future. You have to dig yourself out of the hole and we’ve been through worse.” Lue added his coda: “And so I’m prepared for the fight, so these guys have to get into the fight with me.”

The Clippers erased their halftime deficit by taking that fight to Atlanta, winning the third quarter by 16 and leading by 6 minutes and 31 seconds to 11. But five scoreless Clippers games later, the Hawks had forged a tie, and with 33 seconds left a Trae Young floater gave Atlanta a two-lead in a 19-6 Hawks run. Young scored 14 of his 30 points in the last quarter.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard dives against the Atlanta Hawks in the first half.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard dives against the Atlanta Hawks in the first half.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

When Kawhi Leonard missed a hard-fought three-pointer, an offensive rebound offered Marcus Morris Sr. a great chance to take the lead, but his three-pointer bounced off the rim and Atlanta finished the game on free throws.

The Clippers are 21-21 but “I was encouraged when I saw what we did tonight,” Lue said, and yet the sixth straight loss is the team’s longest losing streak since November 2017.

“The guys are still positive,” said Leonard, who scored 29 points. “That’s where you see if you really enjoy the game and if we’re a team to see if we can dig that hole.”

The furious end capped a remarkable start: point guard Reggie Jackson, who had started in every game since the 2021 postseason, benched for Terance Mann, the wing whose role was undefined just a week ago.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, center, shoots while Atlanta Hawks forward De'Andre Hunter, left, and John Collins defend.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, center, shoots while Atlanta Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter, left, and John Collins defend in the second half.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“My role?” said man. “I don’t know. I mean, I’ve had 100 different roles, so it could be anything. I mean, I’m ready for anything.”

Three days after Leonard criticized the team for not playing with enough speed, urgency or ball movement, Mann fell down the lane before assisting Ivica Zubac, who had 17 points and 18 rebounds. Mann wasn’t a one-for-one substitute for Jackson’s ball handling: More often the pace was controlled by Leonard, who turned the corner with high pick and rolls with his eyes on the rim and pressured Atlanta’s defense to score an early eight achieve. Leading the point, doing the things he had asked for days before.

Leonard’s “pace” gave Lue a lot of encouragement, he said. Leonard said he enjoyed the faster nature of the new grid.

That was different – but real change for the Clippers entering the second half of the season depends on energy sustained in multiple lineups, not just the first.

Although Lue made a philosophical shift in his starting lineups, that was not the case in the construction of his bench units.

Though Lue has repeatedly asked for his team to play with a more focused “defensive mindset,” he deployed a three-man formation in the first half that has struggled to score and defend all season. Jackson, John Wall and Norman Powell — Luke Kennard was unavailable because of a sore ankle — were part of a shift that saw the Clippers give up 13 unanswered points in under three minutes to give Atlanta a 40-30 lead.

But the mistakes went beyond the bank. The first half ended with two Hawks dunks in three seconds after Leonard lost sight of John Collins on a defensive change and Collins sneaked in behind Leonard for an alley-oop. Then Wall’s inbound pass was intercepted for a dunk and a 14-point lead for the Hawks.

Mann’s addition to the starting lineup raised questions about how long the change should last and how much of it came from Lue, who already knew his lineups would be changed due to Kennard and George’s absences, and threw up a new idea in hopes to light a momentary fire. In any case, tough rotation decisions lie ahead for Lue as he settles the roles and responsibilities for his numerous guards four weeks before the NBA closes. If Mann continues his transformation from odd man of the rotation to a permanent fixture, the trickle down effect would have consequences for Jackson, Wall and Kennard.

For one night, Lue publicized his pick, leaving Jackson on the bench for the entire second half while Powell and Wall, each playing more than 22 minutes, featured heavily in the third-quarter comeback. But when the comeback didn’t last, all the new looks offered by the Clippers morphed into the all-too-familiar. Clippers lose to Atlanta Hawks for their sixth consecutive loss

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