What was expected to be one of the best matchups of the early bubble schedule quickly devolved into a laugher, as the Los Angeles Clippers dismantled the New Orleans Pelicans, 126-103, on Saturday. Things got out of hand early as the Clippers made 16 3-pointers in the first half en route to a franchise-record 25 for the game, and the Pelicans never even got close.
Paul George led the Clippers with a game-high 28 points, including 8-for-11 3-point shooting, while Kawhi Leonard chipped in 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans with 14 points and Zion Williamson added seven points and five rebounds in 14 minutes.
Here are a few key takeaways from the blowout.
Clippers show ultimate potential
We knew the Clippers were good, but this game gave us a glimpse of just how good they can actually be when they're clicking on all cylinders. Sure they got red-hot from 3-point range, but that's largely because of open looks created by penetration and ball movement (plus some tremendous individual moves from George). They also got after it on the defensive end, smothering the Pelicans from the outset and limiting normally high-volume scorers Ingram and Williamson.
Also keep in mind that the Clippers were missing Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, their two best bench players. Reggie Jackson stepped up in their absence, but when those two return the Clippers will be even more dangerous.
P.G. is back
After four-plus months of rest, George looks like the MVP candidate we saw last year in Oklahoma City. He was phenomenal on re-opening night against the Lakers, and was even better on Saturday, showcasing his incredible shot creation and scoring ability while also dominating on the defensive end.
This is the Paul George the Clippers traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and 5,000 picks for last summer, and it's easy to see why. If he can keep this up, the Clippers might just be unbeatable.
Inexplicably lethargic Pelicans
The Pelicans are in a heated battle for a playoff berth, so it's hard to understand how they came out so flat on Saturday. Yes, the Clippers are an excellent team, but New Orleans' energy was off from the very start. They were slow with rotations, leading to wide open Clippers 3-pointers, and they occasionally failed to get back in simple transition defense. With the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, Spurs and Kings all fighting for the final Western Conference playoff spot, the Pelicans simply can't afford poor efforts like this in the bubble.
Zion stays on burst plan
Williamson was underwhelming in 14 minutes -- as was pretty much everyone on the Pelicans -- though he put up decent numbers with seven points and five rebounds. Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said during the game that Williamson would continue to play short bursts of three-to-four minutes for at least the next game, possibly longer. It makes you wonder whether, if New Orleans loses a couple more games, they might just shut Zion down completely and prepare for next season.