Clippers turn struggles into strengths in win over Lakers

It was late December when Paul George, the Clippers’ star wing, delivered the post-mortem of a blown 20-point lead in Philadelphia contained in the quiet of an empty locker room.

The Clippers had performed maybe their finest first half of the season. Then their shot choice went haywire, their protection struggled to rein within the 76ers’ stars and an announcement win reworked into an indictment defeat as George lamented an lack of ability to be “a staff that’s simply going to complete you.”

One month later, George and the Clippers had performed perhaps their finest first half of the season, racking up 77 factors and 15 three-pointers and a 23-point lead. However with 6 minutes, 46 seconds remaining within the fourth quarter, they gathered in a huddle inside a howling Area. Their lead was all the way down to 10, their red-hot taking pictures had cooled and so they had struggled to rein within the Lakers’ superlative star within the quarter, as LeBron James dunked and swished three-pointers for 15 of his 46 factors.

“We got here to the huddle, we mentioned that we had been nonetheless up 10 factors, this staff isn’t going to stop and we needed to come back out and nonetheless push the tempo and get these stops,” Clippers wing Kawhi Leonard mentioned.

Within the course of they stopped the Lakers’ comeback chilly in a 133-115 win that marked their 10th consecutive victory towards the Lakers beneath coach Tyronn Lue, claimed their third straight win total and pushed a little bit nearer towards realizing the top-end potential that, like a lot else, has been inconsistent for thus lengthy.

“I believed we did that in San Antonio, we did that in Dallas and tonight, I believed we’ve proven, I feel we’ve taken that step of going up late no matter how the sport goes,” George mentioned after scoring 27 factors with 9 rebounds, making three of his 5 photographs within the fourth quarter. “It is likely to be a detailed recreation, however down the stretch and the fourth, I believed that we’ve pushed the lead and we prolonged the lead and put the sport away.

“In order that’s progress for us. That’s a step in the suitable route. I feel for us now, it’s simply, if we are able to keep wholesome we’re constructing one thing good right here. We simply gotta keep wholesome.”

It wasn’t misplaced on the Clippers (26-24) that they staved off the Lakers by turning areas the place they’ve endured struggles into strengths. A protection that had sunk to the league’s fourth-worst within the halfcourt since that Dec. 23 loss in Philadelphia obtained 4 stops over the vital 1 minutes and 39 seconds after the Lakers had pulled inside 10. Throughout the timeout they switched right into a “drop” protection of James’ on pick-and-rolls as a way to hold Kawhi Leonard guarding James as an alternative of switching defenders, Lue mentioned.

And when the Clippers wanted a giant shot, they obtained one from Reggie Jackson, the embattled level guard who in current weeks has gone from out of the rotation to the center of Tuesday’s celebration.

Lakers ahead LeBron James (6) battles Clippers ahead Kawhi Leonard (2) for a rebound.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Instances)

When Lakers guard Russell Westbrook threw an out-of-bounds cross nicely past the Lakers’ backcourt, George chased it down, falling to the ground and forcing Dennis Schröder to make a fast cross that was intercepted by Leonard for a layup and foul. The lead was 13.

The stretch wasn’t with out its sliding-doors moments that might have allowed the Lakers again within the recreation. On the following possession a Clippers change left each Leonard and Jackson to momentarily lose contact with James however his three-pointer misfired, and George pulled within the rebound to finish the possession — one thing the Clippers have struggled doing with a lot consistency.

Then George and the ball tumbled out of bounds on the next possession. However when the Clippers retained the ball, George threw a crisp cross-court cross to help Jackson for a three-pointer. The lead was 16.

And at last, after Westbrook misplaced his dribble for an additional turnover, Leonard grabbed the free ball and outran Schröder for a dunk that pressured Lakers coach Darvin Ham to empty his bench with 5 minutes left, conceding defeat. The lead was 18. By the top of the Clippers win, Lue laughed with a fan sitting close to the staff’s bench — the boxer Floyd Mayweather, no stranger to touchdown knockout blows.

“We obtained a protracted methods to go, as a result of, [George] on the level and what we wanna run when groups rise up and stress us, how we wish to deal with it, however defensively, offensively, scoring 133 factors, scoring the basketball, PG in a rhythm, Kawhi in a rhythm and that’s form of like what you envision coming into the season,” Lue mentioned. “And so, we’re not there but. We nonetheless obtained a protracted methods to go, however I really like our course of.

“I really like the fellows placing within the work with our practices that we’ve been having and you already know, simply, simply attempting to stick with this system till we get to the place we wish to get to. However proper now I feel we’re doing a great job of trending upwards.”

The lineup on the ground in the course of the 1:39 that swung the sport featured Leonard, George and reserve Norman Powell, the trio that the entrance workplace envisioned may thrive collectively upon buying and selling for Powell, and ahead Robert Covington, 11 months in the past. Accidents have restricted their time as a bunch however on Tuesday, the Powell-Leonard-George trio outscored the Lakers by 10 in almost 11 minutes collectively. Leonard had 25 factors, and Powell added 22 off the bench.

Throughout the three-game win streak the three wings have made 61% of their subject objectives, 53% of their three-pointers and 97% of their free throws.

“Each of them draw a lot consideration from the protection it’s simply taking part in off them to be an outlet and end on the alternative finish of the ground,” Powell mentioned.

The Clippers bench reacts after guard Reggie Jackson (1) sinks a three-point shot.

The Clippers bench reacts after guard Reggie Jackson (1) sinks a three-point shot.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Instances)

Jackson was a shock member of the lineup that closed out the win, having misplaced his beginning job almost three weeks earlier, and together with his minutes solely not too long ago changing into constant once more due to an belly harm sidelining backup guard John Wall. The abrupt position change “was weighing on him a little bit bit,” mentioned George, considered one of Jackson’s shut associates.

Jackson’s three-pointer on George’s help gave him 19 factors in 26 minutes — his most factors since Dec. 27 and minutes since Jan. 2 — and when the Lakers known as their timeout with 5:07 left after the 8-0 Clippers run, teammate Terance Mann bumped chests with Jackson, flexing solely inches from the purpose guard’s goggle-covered eyes.

Lue credited Jackson’s ballhandling as doing “an ideal job of dealing with the stress” of the Lakers’ guards. Jackson had two turnovers, however 5 assists, and the Clippers outscored the Lakers by 11 in his minutes.

“I feel he’s discovering his area of interest, he’s discovering his approach, he’s determining the right way to play, he’s discovered his rhythm,” George mentioned. “And I feel for him he’s simply having enjoyable once more taking part in ball. Like, he’s having fun with the sport and also you see it and he’s displaying that spunk and that vitality that he’s been nice with. I’m joyful he had an ideal recreation.”