In an arena packed to its capacity of nearly 18,064 seats, no one on Thursday found themselves constantly surrounded by more space than Clippers guard Russell Westbrook.
Golden State’s lack of attention to Westbrook’s shooting, in his fourth game since joining the Clippers, was exaggerated from the start Lost to Golden State 115-91, Clippersfourth straight loss since the All-Star break.
Inside the Chase Center, the tactic was evident from the outset in the wide arc provided by his defender — often Draymond Green, but sometimes the center — who eased in several steps in an open invitation for 30% of the three-point shooters this season to shoot whenever the Clippers would keep the ball.
On multiple plays, Westbrook dribbled near the top of the three-point arc while the nearest defender waited deep in the racket, more concerned with Westbrook’s action or pass than the shot. He finished with eight points and six assists in 28 minutes.
“Just be aggressive, find a way to be aggressive,” he said of his counter strategies. “I think I did a great job in the first half, the second half and beyond, we just didn’t shoot. I had opportunities to step up and make plays and everything I needed to, and I just missed some shots.”
The avoidance strategy is not unique to Westbrook’s career, but used to this extent for the first time as a Clipper, it highlighted the spacing challenge with Westbrook, who made three of his 12 shots and none of his seven attempts from outside the box. .
Still, as has become abundantly clear since the All-Star break ended and a four-game losing streak began, the latest loss being a 115-91 loss to Golden State that leaves the Clippers at 33-32, the Clippers’ challenges include but are all but limited to finding the best use for your new guardian.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’ve just got to stay the course, we’ve got to be mentally tough, mentally strong, we can’t let up and we’ve just got to be tougher,” coach Tyronn Lue said.
“That’s the point. When things don’t go your way, it shows you what you’re made of and I’m convinced that we have a good team and they have to be the same, they have to feel the same confidence.
“I don’t care about missed shots, it’s going to happen. You’re going to turn the ball over a little bit, but you can’t let up and my thing is just to have that toughness and that mindset that, OK, things aren’t going well, then let’s do something about it.”
Westbrook was responsible for two turnovers, but only two turnovers, during a game-changing third quarter in which the Clippers (33-32) committed more turnovers (seven) than made field goals (4-for-22). their 16 combined points fell short of the 22 scored by Golden State guard Jordan Poole in the quarter alone. The Clippers led by three when Westbrook went to the bench with 6:05 left in the third quarter. The bottom continued to fall from there, the final 10 minutes of the quarter seeing a 12-point Clippers lead turn into a 15-point Warriors lead — the third time in four games that the Clippers have blown a double-digit lead.
The problems deepened in the fourth quarter, the deficit ballooned to 16 after Westbrook badly overturned a pass in the post, then Poole hit his fifth 3-pointer on the next possession after George couldn’t chase him around a screen.
Team owner Steve Ballmer watched the collapse from courtside seats under the basket.
Kawhi Leonard scored 21 points, while George hit three of his 15 shots for 11 points. George made one of eight 3-pointers, while Eric Gordon made two of 10. Norman Powell made one for nine off the bench.
“We’ve all been in win-win situations and we can’t have — there should be no excuses,” Gordon said. “We have to try harder, we have to [have] more attention to detail. For me, it’s all up to us players and we have to give more.”
Westbrook showed down the stretch why the Clippers felt comfortable with his play thus far. Before the Warriors’ defense could set up, he finished one possession with a layup to speed the pace in transition, and finished the second with a pinpoint pass from the top of the arc to George under the basket for a layup even though the Warriors had packed the paint again.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.