What happened to the deadeye Clippers? Team doomed by missed shots vs. Knicks

New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) dunks past Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum.

After a fan pulled from the crowd Sunday missed every shot in a midcourt Skee-Ball promotion, another stepped onto Crypto.com Arena’s court to test his luck in a three-point shooting contest.

As every shot missed for him, too, injured Clippers star Paul George leaned back and forth during a timeout as if trying to will the ball to go in, wincing and smiling with each misfire.

It was less amusing for the Clippers when their own shooting proved barely more effective in a 116-93 loss to the New York Knicks.

While trailing by as many as 32 points to a Knicks team that had bumbled its way to a 3-17 record since Jan. 17 entering Sunday, the Clippers missed from all distances — on a dunk, layups, midrange jumpers and hoists from deep.

They missed in all manners. A three-point shot by Robert Covington circled the rim twice before spinning out. Another three by Terance Mann banked too hard off the backboard. Isaiah Hartenstein’s one-handed floater in the fourth quarter didn’t touch iron.

Three days after the Clippers’ dead-eye accuracy against the Lakers marked one extreme — the Clippers’ 63% three-point shooting was their best against the Lakers since 1994 — Sunday’s revealed the other in stark contrast. The Clippers needed six minutes and 14 attempts to make their first shot of the second quarter.

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But their most consequential miss wasn’t one shot but felt over the course of four minutes. With a 26-point deficit cut to just 12 entering the fourth quarter, another comeback seemingly in the offing, the Clippers didn’t score from the time 43 seconds remained in the third quarter until 8:31 in the fourth — a span in which the Knicks’ lead was back to a healthy 22, and led Clippers coach Tyronn Lue to insert rarely used reserves.

Amir Coffey scored 16 points off the bench to lead the Clippers, who also got 14 points from Hartenstein. Only Terance Mann (11 points) and Reggie Jackson (10, including 0-for-8 shooting from deep) scored in double figures, the last stat line jarring when compared to Jackson’s 36-point masterpiece only three days earlier against the Lakers.

Just as the Knicks grabbed 12 more rebounds and saw RJ Barrett score 28 points in their matinee victory against the Clippers in January, Barrett dropped 24 points and the Knicks’ size, led by center Mitchell Robinson, caused problems again.

Before tipoff, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau praised Lue, a former assistant of his in Boston when Lue helped the Celtics’ defensive architect study video, with molding a gritty Clippers (34-32) team.

“The only way you replace [George, Kawhi Leonard and Norman Powell] is with your togetherness, it’s your team defense,” Thibodeau said. “Even with those guys out, they can play great defense and then they also can play great offense by sharing the ball, which they’ve done. I think the way [Reggie] Jackson has played, he’s playing at a very, very high level and Ty’s kept it together.”

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Since Feb. 12, the Clippers first’ game with all three of Powell, Leonard and George on the injury report, the Clippers had owned the NBA’s stingiest defensive rating, at only 104 points per 100 possessions allowed.

But the Knicks (26-38) could not be boxed out, with their 15 offensive rebounds becoming 19 second-chance points, and despite Julius Randle making just four of his 16 shots for 10 points, Immanuel Quickly scored 19 points off the bench to bolster Barrett, who scored 16 second-quarter points.

It was in the second quarter, trailing by 19, that Lue responded by pulling Ivica Zubac for guard Luke Kennard, creating a small lineup with Marcus Morris Sr. and Nicolas Batum as his largest options. Three fouls on Batum then led Lue to go even smaller, a decision that forced Robinson to match up on the perimeter against quicker wings. Four minutes after trailing by 19, the Clippers’ deficit was a more manageable 11.

By halftime, it was back to 19 and it should have been larger after the Knicks made only 12 of their 21 first-half free throws.

After outscoring Houston and the Lakers by a combined 37 points in the third quarters of their last two victories, the Clippers left halftime Sunday with no such juice, a 10-2 New York run pushing its lead to 26 barely four minutes into the quarter.

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The Clippers’ third-quarter surge to trim their deficit to 12 looked familiar, their push powered by scoring nine points off of turnovers and the work of a hard-charging bench. But their final half of the quarter was the exception, not the rule, on a night when they ultimately had no shot.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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