Tyronn Lue’s disgust can’t save Clippers in blowout loss to Jazz

Tyronn Lues disgust cant save Clippers in blowout loss to

There wasn’t much to say, so Tyronn Lue didn’t say anything. One gesture was enough to express his disgust.

The Clippers’ coach had called a timeout with fewer than three minutes go to in the first half but he didn’t grab a whiteboard and draw up a play. Trailing by 26 to a Jazz team missing injured starters Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic, more drastic measures were required. Lue simply looked his starters in the eyes and waved them off the court. When Reggie Jackson lingered near the free-throw line to have a word with an official, Lue pursed his lips and waved for his starting guard to go to the bench, too.

On came Clippers reserves, and on went the Jazz’s rout, their lead growing to 37 at halftime. It was so one-sided, the dissection so clinical, that the first half’s most suspenseful moment involved fans tracking where a miniature blimp flying around the arena’s upper deck would dump its giveaway prizes. When the Clippers returned from half, Lue kept three of his starters on the bench, turning to a lineup of essentially anybody still healthy or not in the G League, featuring the little-used Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood.

The 121-92 loss dropped the Clippers (36-37) below .500 for the first time since Feb. 17.

Jared Butler scored a game-high 21 points off the bench for Utah (44-26), and Jordan Clarkson added 20.

Robert Covington scored 18 points to lead the Clippers.

With the Clippers all but a lock to finish eighth in the Western Conference and get two chances in the play-in tournament to advance to the postseason, the stakes of a mid-March blowout would appear relatively, and perhaps understandably, low. But consider the way Lue used the last month of last season, polishing their pick-and-rolls without a center — time that transformed a set he had been “disappointed” in to that point into one that paid postseason dividends.

Lue is trying to use the last three weeks of this season as another lab in which to strengthen different weaknesses, test different ideas, rest up and prepare for the postseason. But the second-half lineups of Ivica Zubac, Hood and Ojeleye wasn’t the kind of lineup experimentation anyone was expecting. Nor did anyone expect rest to come in the form of a beating so out of hand so quickly that Reggie Jackson (seven points), Marcus Morris (five points) and Nicolas Batum (two points) played 39 combined minutes.

That prospect of progress, even with nine games remaining, is why unlike Lue’s message to his starters, this loss couldn’t simply be waved away. Lue wants to see if his team can get better at driving into the paint and playing with better pace in their half-court offense.

“We kind of do it in transition but when we get to half court we kind of get slow, get stagnant, so we’ve got to continue to get to the second and third option and not get slow and not get stagnant and understand what we’re trying to do and what we’re looking for,” he said before tipoff.

But the Clippers’ offense was so lifeless, their inability to keep Rudy Gobert and Utah off the offensive glass to glaring, that the Clippers rarely had opportunities to add polish. Instead, they were pummeled, outrebounded 59-43. Gobert finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds, 10 more than Zubac had in each category.

The bad omens first arrived during the first half, when Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Eric Paschall, normally fringe rotation players elevated by injuries throughout Utah’s rotation, could hardly be stopped. They finished with 13 and 17 points, respectively.

The Clippers opened the fourth quarter with a lazy inbounds pass intercepted 90 feet from their own basket that Jordan Clarkson turned into a quick three-pointer for a 40-point lead. Down the court, Lue didn’t break his stone-faced expression, both arms crossed. Only minutes later did Covington and Luke Kennard become the first Clippers to reach double-digits scoring.

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