Shorthanded Clippers falter at the finish in loss to the Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo goes to the basket against Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Eric Thayer)
Clippers center Ivica Zubac tries to prevent Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo from scoring in the paint during their game Sunday afternoon at Arena. (Eric Thayer / Associated Press)

The Clippers had to try to exact their revenge on the Milwaukee Bucks without stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George because both were dealing with injuries and were not available to play in the game on back-to-back days.

They could not because Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo wouldn’t let the Clippers do so, the two combining for 69 points to lead Milwaukee past L.A. 124-117 at Arena.

Lillard had 35 points, including nine straight points in the fourth quarter that stretched Milwaukee’s lead to 10 points. He also had 11 assists and seven rebounds.

Lillard had 16 points in the decisive fourth quarter, going 4-for-7 from the field, 3-for-5 from three-point range.

Antetokounmpo had 34 points, including the game-icing free throws with 11.12 seconds left that gave the Bucks a four-point lead. He also had 10 assists and seven rebounds.

“Those two guys, I mean, they’re great players and we understand that,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “And they had a good game. I thought Dame [Lillard] set the tone early, scoring the basketball, a couple threes and then took over the game late. And so once he got going, it was hard to stop. We tried to blitz. We tried to fire, tried to do some different things, but he had to go in and made some big shots.”

The Clippers had lost to the Bucks last week in Milwaukee, blowing a 15-point second-half lead, going down in a game that Antetokounmpo didn’t play because of an Achilles injury.

Now, the Clippers were presented with the opportunity to pull off the same feat, playing the game Sunday without their two superstars, Leonard out because of left groin soreness and George sitting because of left knee soreness.

Read more: Ivica Zubac and Norman Powell spark Clippers to win over Bulls

It was just the sixth game of the season that both Leonard and George have missed, this game leaving the Clippers without their combined 46.1 points per game, 11.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists.

“I mean, when you lose your best players when they're not out there, it's always tough,” said Ivica Zubac, who had 18 points and six rebounds. “Everyone got to do their part, everyone got to step up. And I think that's what guys did tonight. I think everyone stepped up and we fought all game.

"We had a lead for pretty much the first half, whole first half. Unfortunately, we lost the game, but there was some good stuff that we did and every time we got James Harden out there, and that helps a lot. He leads the way, he puts us in the right spots, he organizes everything. So, no matter who's on the floor, I feel like we got to change.”

In the Clipper stars' places, P.J. Tucker and Amir Coffey started, respectively. Coffey had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Tucker had seven points and six rebounds.

“Yeah, I thought he was physical,” Lue said of Tucker. “I thought he brought some toughness. I think he had four offensive rebounds, took his open shots and it’s hard to make shots when you haven’t played in a lot to be in a rhythm. But taking his open shots, I thought he brought a physicality that we needed and I thought he did. Overall, I thought he did a decent job.”

Norman Powell led the Clippers with 26 points off the bench. But it was the improved play of Zubac, who was nine-for-11 shooting from the field, who helped the Clippers stay in the game.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.