Both the Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers entered Thursday night’s TNT contest coming off ugly losses, with the Clippers even losers of three straight after their dominant 14-2 start.
But instead of a spirited showdown between two of the league’s best teams, LA annihilated a surprisingly listless Cavaliers squad in Cleveland in a game that had LeBron James and his cohorts visibly frustrated. The 113-94 destruction marks the first time in LeBron’s career he’s lost at home to the Clippers, and it’s the first time since 2012 a LeBron-led squad has lost back-to-back games by 15 or more points, per ESPN Stats & Info.
The game was disjointed from the beginning thanks to a bevy of whistles and stoppages. That didn’t stop the Cavaliers from getting off to a strong start, but foul trouble threw off their rotation and the wheels began to fall off in the second quarter. Cleveland was whistled for 16 personal fouls in the first half and turned the ball over nine times, with LeBron accounting for four of those giveaways. That early Cavaliers lead turned into an eight-point deficit by halftime, and it was about to get a whole lot worse.
Here’s the start of the second half:
Two straight awful turnovers and two buckets on the other end resulted in a “Pop Timeout” from Tyronn Lue, but that was only followed by another turnover and a string of Cleveland misses. Before you could blink it was a 16-point game, and the Cavaliers never threatened after that.
In fact, the Cavaliers didn’t score their first third-quarter points until nearly four minutes in, and their overall effort and focus was clearly lacking. Lue looked befuddled by his team’s ineffectiveness on the sidelines, and LeBron was visibly irked by his own poor play and a hard foul by Alan Anderson in the third quarter. James even received a technical foul for going after Anderson, which encapsulated the general frustration of the evening.
LeBron shot just 5-of-14 from the field and missed five free throws to go along with five turnovers. Cleveland went 9-of-24 from long range (several of these in garbage time), breaking a streak of 16 straight games to start the season with at least 10 made three-pointers.
This type of effort is mildly concerning given the Cavaliers were also trounced by the Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the week, but we should know by now that the regular season is relatively meaningless for the defending champions. They’ve gone through slumps before turning it on in the postseason, so there’s no reason to panic.
Of course, the Clippers also deserve a ton of credit for taking it to Cleveland. J.J. Redick provided the bulk of the offense early by pouring in 21 first-half points on 8-of-10 shooting, and while Blake Griffin struggled with his shot, he played the role of facilitator brilliantly. Griffin racked up eight first-half assists en route to 11 dimes (tying a career high) for the evening,
Not to be left behind, Chris Paul added his typical brilliance with 16 points, nine assists and six boards, while DeAndre Jordan and Luc Mbah a Moute made significant contributions as well. Jordan worked Kevin Love (like, physically manhandled him) and the other Cavaliers on the glass to the tune of eight offensive rebounds (15 total), which helped result in a 19-6 advantage in second chance points. Mbah a Moute racked up five steals and showed his defensive versatility, including twice when he forced Love turnovers in the low post.
The five Clippers starters were a combined +91 on the evening, and LA held a lead as large as 27 before settling on the final 19-point advantage. After the slight bump in the road, we saw the running-on-all-cylinders version of the Clippers that’s a legitimate title contender.