The news that Kawhi Leonard would not be playing for the Clippers against the on Saturday afternoon Orlando magic Due to the right knee injury, treatment was already a blow with so few games remaining in the regular season and LA was battling for playoff position in the upside-down Western Conference.
Then after the Clippers lost 113-108 At the Magic at Crypto.com Arena, trainer Tyronn Lue couldn’t explain why everything went wrong because he didn’t feel well enough to speak to the media.
It was left to assistant head coach Dan Craig to provide the answers as to why the Clippers fell apart in the fourth quarter.
And it was left to Paul George and Russell Westbrook to offer their observations on how the Clippers’ four-game winning streak ended without Leonard helping the cause.
Westbrook, who had 14 points, nine assists, five rebounds and six turnovers, preferred to take the blame for the loss.
Obviously, it wasn’t just Westbrook’s fault for the Clippers’ downfall in a fourth quarter in which they gave up 39 points while Magic shot 60%.
“Yeah, I mean, honestly, that’s honestly on me tonight,” said Westbrook, who was down 13 in the plus-minus category in the fourth quarter. “I could have been better. Started well. But it was terrible in the second half. And I need to help the guys better in the second half and fourth quarter. So it’s not something anyone did. But frankly, it’s on me, you know. More focus on completing the game.”
George led the Clippers by 30 points, nine in the fourth quarter as he did whatever it took to help his team stay with the Magic.
With Markelle Fultz scoring 28 points and Wendell Carter Jr. contributing 27 points and 12 rebounds, the Magic swept the Clippers’ two-game season streak.
Fultz had 12 points in the fourth quarter, driving and cutting to the basket by shooting four for four from the field. Carter had 12 points in the fourth, diving and shooting five for seven from the field and two for three from three-point range.
“We gave up  in the fourth she held under 20  in the third. That’s just a big gap,” George said. “I thought if they spread the ground they have a lot of clearance and we didn’t finish the rotations in that quarter.”
Perhaps the biggest play of game four came after George made a three-pointer to draw the Clippers to two points late in the game.
However, as they did throughout the fourth quarter, the Magic responded and got a three-pointer from Franz Wagner, who had 20 points, with 40.7 seconds remaining, which threw the Clippers back by five and muddled them the rest of the way.
George scored again for the Clippers, but Fultz responded with a layup and took two free throws to end the game.
“I thought they took some contemporary shots,” Craig said. “We got caught shooting, so there were some medium drives. There were a few occasions where we could have looked for unders and then they came in color and then back into their pace.”
The Clippers are playing a string of back-to-back games in Portland Sunday night and Leonard is thought to play the Trail Blazers.
“He’s out tonight,” Lue said before the game. “That is everything I know.”
There was no word on Lue’s availability on Sunday.
When Leonard isn’t playing, George said, he falls more into being the leader.
“All I know is I have to do my job and be more aggressive and just try to keep us balanced,” George said. “Those are really the adjustments that are made when Kawhi is down. Just be a little more aggressive.”
The Clippers have 11 regular-season games left. They are fifth in the West, 1½ games behind the Phoenix Suns and one game ahead of the Dallas Mavericks.
The Clippers have two sets of back-to-back games after Sunday — Memphis on March 31 and New Orleans on April 1, and Portland on April 8 and Phoenix on April 9 in the season finale.
Obviously, it is not known if Leonard will play in back-to-back games.
Either way, the Clippers will have to adjust in his absence.
“There’s no excuse for tonight,” Westbrook said. “We just didn’t finish the game the way we were supposed to and made the right plays the way we needed to.”
Source : www.latimes.com