Clippers guard Norman Powell arrived before Friday night’s tip-off against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center with his left arm still in a sling, a day after injuring his shoulder as he reached out to a potential Golden State rebounder fuses.
After a fifth consecutive loss, a 128-127 defeat decided in the last seven seconds, his team’s big ambitions are similarly battered.
In a reversal of last week’s double-overtime frenzy between these teams needing extra time after Sacramento’s 14-point comeback in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, the Clippers trailed 13 with 7:41 to play, only to win the to take the lead with 34 seconds left on a disputed layup from Paul George.
After a defensive stop, the Clippers gave the Kings one last chance to win after a pass slipped through the hands of Russell Westbrook with 15 seconds left. Westbrook had been the Clippers’ offensive engine up to that point. The Kings got one last chance to win, missing a jumper, but Domantas Sabonis fouled with a loose ball with seven seconds remaining and made both free throws for a one-run lead.
Without a timeout, the Clippers put the ball in George’s hands, but his three-point attempt missed as time expired, his protest for a foul ignored. The Clippers fell to 33-33 on the season, players walking to their locker rooms as the Kings (37-25) lit up a laser on their arena signaling each win.
Westbrook had 27 points and 10 assists. George finished with 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
Powell, who had overcome a rough shooting start to his first full Clippers season to become the NBA’s top reserve candidate with a 16.6-point average on 41% three-point accuracy, suffered a left shoulder subluxation during the game against the end of Thursday’s third quarter in San Francisco. Powell will undergo treatment and the team expects to have a clearer picture of his recovery timeline within a week. Sixteen games remain in the Clippers’ regular season.
Since 2006, the average amount of time missed for shoulder subluxation injuries that don’t require surgery is 21 days, according to In Street Clothes, which tracks NBA injury data. In a recent instance, Golden State star Stephen Curry suffered the same injury and missed 11 games during a three-week absence.
Powell has suffered shoulder injuries throughout his eight-year career, including a previous subluxation of his left shoulder in November 2018. He missed 21 games, in five weeks. A season later, in December 2020, another injury to Powell’s left shoulder cost him 11 games.
Powell’s mix of speed, aggressive attacks in the paint and instinctive offenses make him a uniquely difficult talent to replace. Powell averaged 8.4 free throw attempts per 100 possessions, the second highest percentage among the team’s major contributors.
“We’re all going to miss it,” said coach Tyronn Lue.
The prospect of a possible extended absence comes at a time when the Clippers were expected to reduce their rotation in an effort to create the long-sought chemistry on the field. Lue didn’t know how removing Powell from the rotation would affect his decision making about future drafting – whether Lue thought he could continue giving all three guards, including Terance Mann, Eric Gordon and Powell off the bench, was a lingering question – but said “we are used to change.”
Leading into the postseason, the Clippers could use a nine-man rotation, a number Lue feels comfortable with. Coincidentally, they had a total of nine players available against the Kings on Friday. Kawhi Leonard sat out, the star who has yet to play on consecutive days this season. Ivica Zubac (elbow bruise), starting forward Marcus Morris Sr. (calf sprain) and four players in the G League were also unavailable.
Needing an offensive spark in any way with Leonard out, especially after George took just four shots in the first half, meant more offensive leeway for Westbrook, and one night after being completely avoided by the Golden State defensemen delivered an inevitable effective performance. When the Clippers signed Westbrook with the intention of having “Russ be Russ” it was the kind of controlled power presented as the best-case scenario, his swagger returned 24 hours after his shot-making shortcomings were in the spotlight set up a national broadcaster. After making seven of his first eight shots in the first half and making seven assists in the process, he had a tantalizing verbal exchange with Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox.
What happened when Westbrook went to the bench for halftime late in the third quarter underlined what made him so effective on Friday. In the process, the void highlighted what the Clippers had to replace as long as Powell, with his ability to “go to the basket, because he had the speed to make the turn,” stays out.
Leading 92-91 with 3:13 to play in the quarter, the Clippers added reserves Mann, Bones Hyland and Robert Covington, who came on after seven combined minutes in his final six games. With Westbrook and Gordon off the floor, the Clippers no longer looked for lanes in the paint, settling for three-pointers, though the Kings had no edge protection.
By the time Westbrook checked back in with 8:15 left in the fourth quarter, the Clippers were 13 points behind after missing their first seven three-pointers of the quarter. Before the game, they attempted 41 three-pointers, shooting 34%, and 37 shots into the paint, shooting 75%.
Westbrook made a pair of contested layups on back-to-back possessions, pulled the Clippers in 122–118 with less than three minutes left, then split two free throws with 1:20 left to cut the deficit to two. His decision not to shoot an open three-pointer, but to pass back to George, who swung his corner shot, pushed the Clippers to their first lead of the quarter.
The Clippers fell to 4-12 when awarded 120 or more points and 13-23 against teams with .500 or better records.