Five Takeaways: Clippers Fall Late To Timberwolves, 104-101

LOS ANGELES – The Clippers (29-15) looked poise to capture their eight straight win to start 2017 in their first game following Chris Paul’s thumb surgery, but that opportunity slipped away at the hands of Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves (15-28) down the stretch.

Here are five quick takeaways from the Clippers’ 104-101 loss.

1) Jordan career high, not slowing down – No one finds DeAndre Jordan on rolls to the rim quite like Chris Paul, so the loss of the Clippers’ point guard seemed likely to slow down what’s been a monstrous start to January for Jordan, who entered Thursday night averaging 17.7 points, 18.7 rebounds and three blocks per game in his previous three games.

But with post moves – including a shake and right-handed finish off the glass going to his left – with dunks and with blocks – including a swat of Andrew Wiggins with 5:50 remaining – Jordan was every bit the star offensively the Clippers needed with Paul and Blake Griffin out, showing no signs of slowing down on his way to a career-high 29 points, also adding 6 rebounds, two blocks and two assists on 12-for-15 shooting. In his last three games, Jordan’s now 32-for-36 from the floor.

The Timberwolves tried to minimize both Jordan’s offense and the Clippers’ offense as a whole in the final minutes, resorting to hacking on multiple possessions, with Jordan often splitting on his way to a 5-for-12 night from the line.

“When teams do that, we’ve got to get stops,” said Austin Rivers. Too often down the stretch, that didn’t happen.

2) Too much Towns – At halftime, the Clippers found themselves in a good spot. They led by seven, forced 10 Minnesota turnovers and held Karl-Anthony Towns to 10 points.

Then, Towns went berserk.

The Timberwolves’ center scored 12 points in the third quarter and 15 in the fourth, turning a three-point Clippers lead with a minute and a half remaining into a Minnesota advantage after knocking down two shots on his way to a 17-for-24 night with 37 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.

“He was unbelievable,” said head coach Doc Rivers. “He made them all over the floor…We thought we could guard it, and he made us pay.”

3) 3-Point struggles – The Clippers had been on a roll from long distance as of late, shooting better than 34 percent from 3-point range in six of their last seven games entering the night, but they struggled to find their shot behind the arc Thursday.

The Clippers went just 4-for-22 from long distance, marking their fewest made 3-pointers and their worst percentage from long distance since Nov. 27 in Indiana, when they scored a season-low 70 points. J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford both had chances to tie on tough shots behind the arc before the buzzer, but both were off the mark, as Crawford’s recent struggles offensively continued.

“You feel for him, because you know he works on it every day,” said head coach Doc Rivers. “It’s going to come, but it happens.”

4) Late-game lulls – Thursday was reminiscent to when the Clippers played the Mavericks without Paul at the start of their season-long six-game losing streak at the end of December, with the Clippers in prime position to win before running out of gas at the end.

“We’ll be fine,” Austin Rivers said. “We definitely got to learn from these mistakes, though…I don’t know how long ago it was, but CP was hurt and we lost to Denver and Dallas those two games down the stretch. We’ve got to be better down the stretch. I think we will be.”

5) Spreading the minutes – Doc Rivers said he’ll have to be careful with Raymond Felton’s minutes with Paul out, largely because Felton’s ball pressure is essential while shorthanded in the backcourt; the more Felton plays, the less energy he has to hound offensive players. Still, that’s going to be a challenge while short Paul.

Thursday, though, no Clippers player played more than 40 minutes. Still, Austin Rivers, who played 36 minutes, wished his fouls hadn’t racked up. They limited his time in the final minutes, and eventually he fouled out after scoring 20 points.

What’s Next? – The Clippers start a three-game road trip Saturday in Denver.