There were moments in Saturday’s first half when the Clippers’ offense didn’t look like it had all season.
Minutes later, an all-too-familiar sight emerged: a key contributor walked out injured.
Pain in his right knee prevented All-Star winger Paul George from going 10-7 in the second half of his team’s final 119-97 win over San Antonio at Crypto.com Arena. The exit ended a superlative start, his 21 points in 15 minutes equating to his second-highest scoring in a half this season, behind only George’s 24 points in the first half against Utah earlier this month.
George watched the second half from the touchline, his right leg wrapped in a black sleeve, and joined shooting guard Luke Kennard, who had missed the last two games with a strained right calf, in the team’s injury report. If George was worried about his knee, it wasn’t enough to stop him from throwing shirts at the crowd during a fourth-quarter break.
“I’m fine,” George said to Steve Ballmer on the way to the dressing room after the win, smiling and nodding after hugging the team’s owner. Coach Tyronn Lue also described George as fine.
Still, his unplanned absence cast a shadow over what, in Lue’s estimation, had otherwise qualified as the team’s best game — a feat that saw it put aside its pattern of slow starts for an 18-point lead in the first quarter and, with it, the highest crooked quarter of the season. George was responsible for 18 points in a quarter as the Clippers, whose offense ranked in the bottom third of the league for most of the season, scored 40 points.
Lue urged his players to make quick offensive decisions before tipoff, and when they did, they made quick work of Spurs.
“That’s the blueprint,” Lue said.
One of the NBA’s rarest passing teams suddenly became an even-handed attack while also producing arguably their most impressive possession of the season. Backup point guard John Wall got the ball around his back while driving into the Paint In Transition in the first quarter before passing to Nicolas Batum, who whipped the ball left around the three-point arc to Reggie Jackson on the wing, where it moved returned the ball to Norman Powell in the corner for an open three-pointer.
Wall dished out nine assists in just his first six minutes. He finished with 15 assists, becoming the first Clipper to have at least 15 assists since Chris Paul in 2017, joining only Gary Grant in 1991 and Pooh Richardson in 1997 to record at least that many while he was from the bank came.
Wall can sometimes stay too eager to lull his defender with a dribble while teammates look on, his belief in his jumper leading to a two-out-of-eight night for five points — but Wall has also been sensational setting up others, his Assists resulted in 40 points. His alley-oop lob in the first quarter, just beyond the reach of a Reggie Jackson defender, was of such difficulty that it would even impress a figure skating judge. Jackson caught the pass and hit it from the backboard with his own magical touch.
“When John Wall plays like that, we’re a hard team to beat,” said Lue.
The encouraging signs didn’t stop there, enough that the repeat of another ebb and flow in the second quarter — the Clippers own the NBA’s worst second-quarter net rating, the difference between points scored and ceded per 100 possessions — was quickly forgotten during the router went on. The Clippers’ 21 three-pointers was a season high.
Lue emptied his bench with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Clippers received good news merely from the sight of Kawhi Leonard, who told Lue his right knee felt “good” after returning to the court for a second straight Thursday after 12 games. He then finished with 22 minutes and scored 11 points, making five of his eight shots.
And Powell, a 28 percent three-pointer this season, made five of seven shots over the arc and finished with a team-high 26 points from the bench. His seventh game is in double digits in his last nine games – each subsequent game further pushing his struggling start to the season into what he and the team are hoping is the rear view.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/clippers/story/2022-11-19/paul-george-knee-injury-clippers-spurs-recap Paul George ‘OK’ after exiting early in Clippers’ win over Spurs