The Clippers point guard whipped out an invisible dictionary.
How could it be possible, through nine games to start the season, that these Clippers were last in the NBA in points per game? In offensive efficiency? These Clippers — even continuing to miss Kawhi Leonard — with Paul George, John Wall, Norman Powell and a crew of veteran talent capable of going for 30points any night?
So guard Reggie Jackson, who had struggled to a 36% shooting start from the field this season, put it extravagantly in the locker room before Sunday night’s game at Crypto.com Arena.
“Definitely, it’s an oxymoron,” Jackson said. “All the talent we’ve acquired, all of the offensive firepower we have, we [have] one of the worst offensive ratings. So it’s just a little ironic.”
“We’re trending in the right direction offensively — [but] eight for 33 is not going to get it done from the three-point line,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.
The Clippers were 0 for 10 on three-point tries in the fourth quarter.
George had 34 points, Marcus Morris Sr. added 18 and three other Clippers scored in double figures. But Wall was 0 for four from three, Powell continued a slow start with six points, and jump shots clanked off the iron in the fourth quarter as the upstart Jazz improved to 8-3.
There are quite a few cooks in the kitchen for the Clippers, which is tremendous on paper — but as players shift in and out of the lineup and the team continues to miss Leonard, who has no timetable for a return from knee soreness, per Lue — the amorphous rotations have “created a little inconsistency within our offense,” George said.
“I’m very optimistic this team will find our stride and start playing our best basketball,” George said. “… We’re just going through those growing pains.”
Early in Sunday’s game, it seemed as if that offensive inconsistency wouldn’t matter as long as George was firing, continuing a four-game stretch in which he has racked up at least 28 points every game.
After scoring 15 points in the first quarter, George grabbed a rebound with the Clippers down 46-40 in the second and went to work, drawing a foul.
Then came the smoothness, the no-sweat-handles that make George’s monster games seem almost effortless, the mixing and shaking for a hop-step floater.
Suddenly, George had 24 points with three minutes to go in the first half and the Clippers had cut their deficit to one.
But the Jazz grabbed the momentum back without the Clippers’ Ivica Zubac on the floor — who entered leading the NBA in blocks per game — blitzing the rim. Olynyk strayed from the three-point line for a driving layup, Collin Sexton (who finished with 22points) bulldozed his way to the rim, Lauri Markkanen drew fouls on the interior. The Clippers trailed 63-56 at halftime.
Help was on the way. Wall, the Clippers’ biggest offseason acquisition, was frustrated through much of the night. And then the speed that once produced nightly highlights ignited.
As the Jazz’s shooting ran dry to end the third quarter, Wall took off in transition, attacking helplessly backpedaling Jazz defenders for pretty left-handed finishes and double-clutch layups. And early in the fourth quarter, he galloped down the lane again, circling the ball behind his back to leave Jordan Clarkson in the dust and keeping his hand raised after a layup that put the Clippers up 93-89 with seven minutes to play.
“That’s the team we need to be,” George said. “That pace, that’s what I envisioned.”
But Wall’s explosiveness was matched minutes later by Sexton, who hung for an and-one that gave the Jazz a 104-98 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
That third-quarter stretch was Wall at his best — and the team at theirs, George said. But the Clippers haven’t found that gear for a full 48minutes. And the oxymoron persists.
Up next for Clippers: vs. Cleveland
When: 7:30 p.m. PST Monday
On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal, NBA TV; Radio: 570, 1220
Update: The Cavaliers (8-1) own the second-best record in the NBA after winning their eighth consecutive game Sunday, 114-100 over the Lakers. The Clippers will have to deal with former Utah Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, who is averaging a fourth-best 31.4 points per game and 6.5 assists for Cleveland.