Clippers takeaways: Loss in opener to Golden State chalked up to rustiness

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The Clippers were the last team in the NBA to tip off their season when they arrived at Chase Center in San Francisco on Thursday. Now, they’re just like everyone else — trying to find ways to improve after opening night.

Clippers takeaways: Loss in opener to Golden State chalked up to rustiness
© (Tony Avelar / Associated Press) Paul George and the Clippers lost their season opener Thursday to the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco. (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Five takeaways from their 115-113 loss to Golden State:

The decisive drought

The Clippers extended their lead to 98-90 with 10:36 to play, but didn’t score for the next six minutes. Those 11 offensive possessions changed the game, and rewatching the sequence could drive coach Tyronn Lue to annoyance, and also make him feel better, for the same reason: By and large, the Clippers generated quality, open shots. They just didn’t make them.

Marcus Morris — statistically the second-most accurate three-point shooter in the NBA last season — missed three three-pointers with a defender well away from him. The last look was made possible by Eric Bledsoe’s drive, which tilted the defense away from Morris, the exact kind of play they traded for Bledsoe to make.

Last season, Reggie Jackson made 42% of his three-pointers taken in the shot clock’s final four seconds. He took two such shots in Thursday’s stretch and missed both — including one that rattled in and out. Running to the top of the arc, Luke Kennard took a pass and fired a deep three, which missed. He made 45% of his zero-dribble threes last season.

The Clippers will want back some of their shots. Paul George was almost out of control while fading away as he shot over Otto Porter in the paint. Justise Winslow took a contested floater and Kennard tried a right-handed layup — he’s a natural righty but shoots left — over the long arm of Andrew Wiggins. But overall, these were good attempts. Their offensive process worked, but the shots didn’t fall.

Steph on it

After nine days off and playing lineups Lue said weren’t used even during practices because of Nicolas Batum’s late scratch for personal reasons, the Clippers weren’t sharp defensively to start. They lost Stephen Curry at times on back cuts and even after made baskets when they could set their defense, en route to 25 first-quarter points.

“We told them, ‘You can’t relax. He’ll shoot it from anywhere. The best shooter of all time,’” Lue said.

But there were encouraging signs. Golden State grabbed 53 rebounds, 15 more than the Clippers, but only 10 were offensive. The Warriors can be turnover-prone, but one-fifth of the Warriors’ possessions ended in a turnover, 21 in all. The Clippers committed only seven. It’s a key indicator this season. Without Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers have less margin for error offensively. They need possessions to lead to shots.

Something foul

There was a confidence about Jackson before tipoff as he walked to the locker room after his pregame routine, bumping fists. But the guard struggled to re-create the dynamic offensive performances that turned him into a postseason hero almost overnight last summer. He missed all five shots before halftime, was two of 13 after three quarters and finished four of 19.

Like George, he didn’t shoot a single free throw, at one point snapping at an official when a drive didn’t draw a call.

“I think the toughest part about starting a season off is finding your rhythm, and Reggie, he’s a scorer,” said George, who knows how to read Jackson better than anyone else in the Clippers’ locker room. “More nights than not, he’s going to have big nights for us. That’s just the thing about the season. Game 1, it’s going to be a lot of guys trying to find their rhythm and find themselves to start out, especially adding new people into the lineup and figuring out how to play around with them and find your offense, but Reggie is fine.”

George has long wondered why he doesn’t draw more foul calls. It took only one game this season to shake his head and describe his zero-free-throw night, in a game where he took seven shots within three feet of the hoop, as “crazy.”

“Draymond got nine of them [free throws], so honestly, I don’t know what he did that I wasn’t doing,” George said. “I drove the ball more than he did to the paint, took more contact than him going to the paint. I don’t know how he gets rewarded with nine of them.

“It’s just crazy, like, you get T’d up, I’m getting hit in the face, I’m getting smacked in the face. I shot a three, I get smacked on the elbow. That is just crazy to me, but it’s nothing new. I’ve just got to do a better job of staying within the game. It is what it is.”

Big things come in small lineups

The Warriors force certain matchups with their speed and ball movement. It’s why Lue favored Lilliputian lineups instead of playing backup center Isaiah Hartenstein, even though they didn’t even have a true backup power forward with Batum out. But even on nights when a reserve big man could feasibly fit, the Clippers have fresh evidence that their small lineups can cause havoc.

Their 25-5 run to close the first half, which erased a 19-point deficit, took place without a true center on the floor. Zubac didn’t play the final 7:30 before halftime. Their top three lineups, as gauged by plus/minus, all shared one constant: the presence of wings Luke Kennard and Terance Mann.

“It was a tough game for Zu and Isaiah to play in because they play small and they move so fast and you don’t want to have to blitz Steph the whole game because they will pick you apart,” Lue said. “Like I said, just mixing and matching [lineups], just trying to find the right rotation and who plays well together, and I thought we did that in that second quarter.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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