Clippers’ loss to Suns raises questions about NBA title hopes

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George approached the midcourt Sunday night at the Crypto.com Arena, one stoic, the other about to speak. The Clippers stars had been asked to address the crowd ahead of the team’s home game and George kept his remarks brief while Leonard nodded along.

“Why not us?” said Georg. “Let’s get it this year.”

All Sunday proved as the Clippers struggled to keep up with Phoenix in their second game in as many nights during a 112-95 loss that the Clippers must first answer a few questions before they can dream of lifting a title.

Who starts at the point guard?

Although Reggie Jackson started his third straight game, John Wall replaced him with the starters to open the third quarter, with Wall nearly matching Jackson’s minutes.

How often will the Clippers balance with their starting center, Ivica Zubac, instead of replacing him with small lineups? Capitalizing on traditional big men throughout the game, Phoenix throttled the Clippers in rebound totals in the first half to build a 20-point lead, with their starter Deandre Ayton once picking a rebound out of the air over Jackson’s head with ease .

Perhaps most importantly, was this a case of quick turnaround fatigue, or did the Clippers disregard coach Tyronn Lue’s offseason directive that, for all their talent, they won’t maximize it without a lot of effort?

“You can’t start games like that, especially if you want to start with a defensive mindset,” Lue said. “No excuses with back to back. Everyone plays back to back. We just have to get better.

“Phoenix is ​​a better team than we are now. But we will still be better.”

The Clippers were blown away in an often sluggish first half, with any comeback attempt in the second half quickly rebuffed by Phoenix, led by Devin Booker’s 35 points and 16 points for second chances.

George was equally critical of defense – on-ball defense was poor, he said, as was off-ball defense.

“We didn’t help each other,” George said.

Marcus Morris Sr.’s 22 points was a team high.

Leonard played 21 minutes in the second game of his season and had 11 points with six rebounds and two assists while bullying his way to the free-throw line for seven points. George, one night after scoring 40 goals in 39 minutes to beat Sacramento, played 34 minutes and scored 16 goals.

Jackson didn’t score, missed all five of his shots in 24 minutes and had two assists. He started the second half in his warm-ups along the baseline while Wall took on the role of lead ball handler alongside George and Leonard. A night earlier, Wall’s most notable contribution while sidelined in Sacramento was his sideline adviser for Norman Powell amid the Starting Guard’s three-for-18 shot start to his season, Lue said ahead of the tip.

“Norm was frustrated with himself, but [Wall] I spoke to Norm and it was just ‘keep playing, keep going,'” Lue said before the tip.

“‘If you’re taking the right shots and you’re aggressive, it’s fine. You’re not going to take every shot.’ ”

Lue also attempted to back up Wall’s words approaching Powell with a joke.

Clippers forward Norman Powell (left) shoots in front of Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker in Sunday's second half.

Clippers forward Norman Powell (left) shoots in front of Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker in Sunday’s second half.

(Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

“You know, me and Michael Jordan didn’t take every shot either, you know?” Lue said to Powell. “And we’re two of the best to ever make it, so you gotta keep going, you know?”

Powell made four shots out of nine while heeding Lue’s advice to stay aggressive in a way that sometimes worked — layups and runouts in transition for an easy third-quarter dunk from Leonard — and sometimes didn’t — an attempted pass in traffic to Zubac that was erased.

Lue didn’t have to tell Wall to move on. The Clippers fell 11-0 behind, not hitting more than three minutes to open the game, and by the time Wall checked in eight minutes into the first quarter, Booker had beaten the Clippers 14-10 as Phoenix’s lead grew to 14

Wall delivered a burst that was missing. His first pass was a perfect lob to George for a dunk. One of his first drives was a full-court burst, in which Wall recklessly, albeit unsuccessfully, attempted to get the ball all the way around his waist. Wall wasn’t perfect, taking one out of five free throws, but he scored 17 points and made seven shots out of 12.

Leonard logged seven minutes in the third quarter, continuing his substitution pattern from his first game in which he appeared in three periods of about seven minutes each – half a quarter to end the first half, followed by the first half of the third quarter, to reserve time closing minutes.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/clippers/story/2022-10-23/clippers-phoenix-suns-recap-kawhi-leonard-paul-george Clippers’ loss to Suns raises questions about NBA title hopes

Emma Bowman

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