LOS ANGELES — Outrebounded and out-Valanciunas’d, the Clippers finally shot well but still came up short on Monday night in a deflating 123-104 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Jonas Valanciunas, New Orleans’ bearded big man, scored 29 of his career-high 39 points in the first half, when he shot 7 for 7 from 3-point range.
“It’s always good,” the Lithuanian center said, “to see the shot going in.”
Later, Valanciunas chased down an errant Clippers pass and went soaring in for a right-handed dunk that punctuated a memorable night – for him – and pushed the Pelicans’ lead to 107-92 with 4:10 left.
It was a performance the Clippers might rather forget. They lost despite shooting 51.4% (37 for 72) from the field – the fourth time all season they shot better than 51% and the first time since they defeated Minnesota on Nov. 13.
Paul George went 10 for 20 from the field (though just 3 for 10 from 3-point range) en route to 27 points. And Reggie Jackson (19), Serge Ibaka (13) and Eric Bledsoe (10) all scored in double figures.
But the Clippers were done in by a lopsided discrepancy in second-chance points (18-4), a residual of New Orleans’ 14-4 offensive rebounding advantage.
By himself, Valanciunas had more success than the Clippers combined on the offensive glass, where he collected seven of his 15 boards – becoming the first NBA player to record seven 3-pointers and seven offensive boards in the same game.
L.A. didn’t secure an offensive rebound until the third quarter.
Said Coach Tyronn Lue: “We played big, they got offensive rebounds. We played small, we got offensive rebounds.”
“That’s obviously our kryptonite,” said George, with a nod to the Clippers’ 8.8 offensive rebounds-per-game average, which ranks 28th in the league — compared with the 11.3 offensive rebounds their opponents are averaging, fourth-most NBA-wide.)
“Every team goes towards that, sending guys to the glass and they just think that they can do that and there’s no penalty to it because we haven’t been a great transition team once we get rebounds.”
To his point, the Clippers were outscored in transition Monday, 22-6 – even fewer fast-break points than the 9.6 they’ve averaged over the past nine games, of which the Clippers (11-10) have lost six after starting the season 8-4.
“It’s not a time to panic,” said George, who was responsible for seven of the Clippers’ 15 turnovers against New Orleans. “It’s not a time to panic. We know we’re not playing well, but like I said, all of it is kind of self-inflicted with our turnovers, starting with me. So we clean that up, we give ourselves a chance.”
The Clippers coughed it up a season-high 25 times against Golden State on Sunday afternoon, and the Warriors turned those mistakes into 31 points in their 105-90 victory. George had a career-high-tying eight turnovers in that game – for the third time this season.
On Monday, the Clippers cleaned up their act some and managed to erase much of what had been a 21-point Pelicans lead, getting the deficit to fewer than 10 in the fourth quarter. It was 95-87 with 7:21 left after an official review flipped an offensive foul on George into a basket and-1.
But they just couldn’t stop New Orleans (6-17), not at the outset, and not down the stretch.
And former Clipper Willie Green led his squad past Tyronn Lue’s for the second time this month. The Clippers also met the Pelicans on the second game of a back-to-back set and lost, 94-81, on Nov. 19 in New Orleans.
In front of 15,691 fans at Staples Center, they fell behind by as many as 19 points in the first quarter – despite making their first five shots. They finished the period shooting 3 for 12.
And their usually dependable defense failed to account for Valanciunas, who finished the game 15 for 24 from the field and became the fourth player in NBA history to record at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and seven 3-pointers in a game.
The 6-foot-11 center’s seven 3-pointers in 16 first-half minutes tied a New Orleans franchise record for most 3-pointers in any half.
Valanciunas has come a long way after making just one 3-pointer in four attempts through his first five NBA seasons.
This season, his 10th in the NBA, he’s leading the league in 3-point shooting, hitting at a 51.7% clip on 2.5 attempts per game from deep. What’s more, he is on pace to become the first center in NBA history to shoot 45% or better from 3-point range on more than two attempts per contest.
His percentage might be even higher if he faced the Clippers more often. He’s 12 for 17 against Lue’s squad this season – and a still-quite-good 18 for 41 against New Orleans’ other opponents.
“I just feel like I’m shooting the ball, I’m not hot or cold – I’m just, you know, taking what’s out there,” Valanciunas said. “If I have an open shot, I’ll take it. If I’m making it, I’ll keep taking it. Simple as that.”
He missed his only attempt from long range in the second half on Monday, but together, he and Ingram combined for 66 points on 27-for-42 shooting.
And the Pelicans – who, by the way, are expecting star forward Zion Williamson soon to begin participating in all team activities after undergoing offseason surgery on his fractured right foot – have won four of seven games, with victories over the Clippers as bookends.
They were 2-14 the first time they faced the Clippers on Nov. 19, and New Orleans has gone 3-2 since, with victories over Utah and Dallas.
The Clippers’ busy week continues Wednesday, when they host the Sacramento Kings – who, for all of their issues this season, rank eighth in offensive rebounding, hauling down 10.7 per game.
— Bally Sports West (@BallySportWest) November 30, 2021
— NBA (@NBA) November 30, 2021