The Chris Paul injury news put a dark pall over this one before it even began. But injury isn’t an excuse! The LA Clippers were 2-5 without Chris Paul this season entering this contest, but the 2 wins came during the first 2 games of the 2017 winning streak. The Clippers were also playing their 82nd regular season game without Blake Griffin in the Doc Rivers era – a full season without Griffin! And the Clippers led the Minnesota Timberwolves at halftime – but then a Minnesota injury (PG Ricky Rubio, hip) helped foster a 2nd-half comeback win for a Timberwolves squad that had been poor in 3rd quarters and close games. The 104-101 Timberwolves win snapped LA’s NBA-long 7-game winning streak and ends LA’s time in California on a sour note as they head out on the road for 10 of the next 11 games.
Top Performer: Timberwolves C Karl-Anthony Towns dominated the 2nd half, scoring 15 in the 4th quarter, 27 in the 2nd half, and 37 for the game. But the Timberwolves may have been down even more earlier without SF Andrew Wiggins getting 18 1st half points and 27 for the game. Most importantly, Wiggins grabbed an offensive rebound off a Towns miss and fouled out Clippers SF Austin Rivers with 5.5 seconds left, hitting 2 FTs to give Minnesota what would be the final points of the game at 104-101.
X-Factor: The free throw line comes up a lot in this section when I break down Clippers games. Thursday night was another example of the stripe deciding a game. The Timberwolves had more attempts, makes, and a better percentage than the Clippers from the line (19-of-25, 76 percent) than the home team (13-of-24, 54.2 percent). C DeAndre Jordan, who had an adventurous time at the FT line in Minnesota back in November , made only 5-of-12 from the FT line, and besides Rivers (4-of-5 FTs), the rest of the Clippers failed to make multiple trips to the FT line. Towns only made 2-of-2 FTs as well, but Wiggins was 8-of-10.
Major Moment: When Jamal Crawford sliced through the lane and made a floater with the shot clock running down, it gave the Clippers a 101-98 lead with 1:28 left to play. The Timberwolves had been fighting back all game, but had not yet taken a lead. But the Clippers would fail to score again, while the Timberwolves got points on each of their last three possessions: a Towns jump hook over smaller defenders, a Towns mid-range go-ahead jumper over Jordan, and the aforementioned Wiggins FTs. All the Clippers managed down the stretch were missed contested jumpers by Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick. Crawford and Redick combined to finish with only 16 points on 7-of-25 from the field (28 percent), with Crawford making only 1-of-2 FTs and Redick failing to get to the line.
Key Lineup: Remember what I was saying about injuries not being excuse for poor team performance? Well, injuries also open up opportunities for other players. Without Rubio missing the 2nd half, Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau may never have unleashed his best unit of Tyus Jones and rookie Kris Dunn with starters Zach LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns. That lineup played most of the 4th quarter and outscored the Clippers 17-10, compiling a 66.9 net rating in the process. Because of poor defense, the Clippers starting lineup of PG Raymond Felton, Redick, Rivers, PF Luc Mbah a Moute, and Jordan was the worst Clippers lineup that played at least 3 minutes. The LA starters were outscored 40-29 in 13 minutes, allowing 138.1 points per 100 possessions and compiling a net rating of -27.4. The Timberwolves missed their only three-point attempt against the LA starting lineup, but made 17-of-23 from inside the arc (73.9 percent).
The Definition: Too bad for Jordan that his career-high scoring night (29 points, 16 rebounds, 12-of-15 FGs, 2 blocks) was ruined by Towns just blistering LA in the 2nd half. Leaving Towns on an island is something that Doc Rivers came to regret by the end of the night.
“He [Karl-Anthony Towns] was unbelievable,” Doc Rivers said after the game. “He nailed a ton of shots, most of them being jump shots, but he really made them all over the floor. We probably should have done something else to stop him, especially on the pick and roll plays. However, we didn’t, and he made us pay for it.”
The loss brings the Clippers record without Chris Paul this season to 2-6, and their record without Blake Griffin this season drops to 10-7. Hope you all enjoyed having the Clippers in California! Starting Saturday, the Clippers will play in 11 different arenas in 24 days. Bon voyage.