Clippers hang on against feisty Kings, 112-108

Does DeMarcus have another facial expression? I've never seen it. - USA TODAY Sports

It was neither easy nor particularly pretty, but the Clippers finally defeated the Kings to secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They'll open the postseason Saturday against Memphis in STAPLES Center.

The Los Angeles Clippers had so much fun during this, the most successful regular season in their history, that they apparently decided to keep it interesting to the very end. So they let the Sacramento Kings hang around and hang around, and even take the lead 98-97 on a Patrick Patterson three pointer with two and a half minutes left. But Jamal Crawford hit back to back threes of his own in response, the first coming on a broken play with the shot clock winding down and a hand in his face, and the Clippers got enough scores to hold on for the victory. Goodness knows they didn't get any stops.

The win is the Clippers' 56th of the season. In the 2010 playoffs, 56 wins would have been good enough for the second seed in the Western Conference; this season it would get you the second seed in the East. But in the West in 2013 it's only good for fourth -- and in the case of the 56 win Grizzlies, it's only good for fifth, and they'll have to travel to L.A. to face the Clippers in the first round.

For a team with nothing concrete to play for -- they were never really in the playoff race and had nothing on the line tonight -- the Kings sure did want this game. From the first quarter they were chirping and pushing and glaring at the Clippers. DeMarcus Cousins (who, let's face it, always has a chip on his shoulder), Marcus Thornton and Isaiah Thomas were feeling particularly feisty it seemed; Thomas (who played the entire second half) had something to say to Chris Paul or Eric Bledsoe on every possession, Thornton was complaining to the officials from his first shot, and Cousins was, well, Cousins. And while some NBA coaches are unwilling to use an intentional fouling strategy because they feel it is against the spirit of the game, Keith Smart didn't hesitate to have his players intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan in the fourth quarter in a game where a win meant pretty much nothing to the Kings. How ironic that they blew the execution the first time they tried to hack Jordan and allowed Paul to make a layup simultaneous to the foul, probably costing them two points. All in all, the game was just the kind of feel good evening you would have hoped for in what could be the last NBA game ever played in Sacramento.

With the Clippers up three and Paul headed to the line for two free throws with seven seconds remaining, Thomas and Paul were still going at it, Cousins stepped in to give Paul a shove, Ryan Hollins stepped in to give Cousins a shove, Cousins and Hollins got double technicals, and a few seconds later the lovefest was finally over. As it happens, Cousins had dodged a bullet earlier this week when his 16th technical foul of the season (which carries an automatic suspension) was rescinded by the league. It took him until game 82 to do it, but he got his league-leading 16th after all.

As was the case when these two teams met here a month ago, the Kings went off in the fourth quarter, once again scoring 38 points. The only saving grace for the Clippers this time was that they scored 34 themselves instead of the paltry 18 they scored last time. And what is it about the Clippers that sets Thornton off? After missing all of his threes in the first half, he made five of his first seven in the second half, pulling up in transition every chance he got. He missed his final two or the Kings might have actually won this game. Thornton finished the game 5-12 from deep and finished the season 19-36 against the Clippers in four games.

But it was Cousins who really tormented the Clippers tonight. It was his season high in scoring, the third best scoring game of his career, his career high in rebounds, the second 30-20 game of his career, and the second best points/rebounds game of any player in the NBA this season (Zach Randolph of the Grizzlies had a 38 point, 22 rebounds game against the Suns in December). So I guess Cousins can play well with a chip on his shoulder (though we've seen the opposite as well).

When you consider that Cousins outproduced Blake Griffin to the tune of 36 points versus seven and 22 rebounds versus four, I guess maybe the Clippers should feel relieved to come away with a win. They can thank guards Paul Crawford and Chauncey Billups on the offensive end, who combined to score 66 of the Clippers 112 points between them. Crawford, you'll recall, needed three three pointers to break the Clippers' single season record for threes made set by Rasual Butler in 2010. He finished with 24 points that included six made threes to easily set the record. Billups bounced back from an 0-5 performance in his return from injury Tuesday night to make four of his first five shots and finish 5-8 for 17 points (the final four coming as clutch free throws in the final seconds). He seemed a tad too eager to be the guy to shoot the Clippers out of the doldrums early in the third quarter when the Kings went on a 14-2 run to take the lead, but you have to take the good with the bad with Chauncey I guess -- he still views himself as a star, and at times that confidence is going to help the Clippers, while at other times it's going to be a problem.

The bigger problem however would seem to be Griffin's back. With the Grizzlies coming to town for Game 1 on Saturday, Griffin has a sore back that clearly limited him in the finale. He took a charge from Travis Outlaw late in the first half and went straight into the locker room afterward. The back apparently tightened up against the Blazers Tuesday. The good news is that he's 24 and may be able to shake this off -- the bad news is that for regular mortal humans, back trouble can be a huge problem. He clearly was not his athletic self today, twice failing to finish dunk opportunities in the third quarter when he was met near the rim. He was certainly fouled by Cousins on the second one -- but it was the kind of foul that wouldn't have mattered a bit to Griffin under normal circumstances. He just didn't have the explosiveness we have come to expect from him. Hopefully he will for the playoffs, but this issue looms large as the big huge Grizzlies come to town.

To Griffin's credit, he did score four of his seven points on two huge baskets down the stretch. First he got a dunk on a pass from Chris Paul, then he tipped in Ryan Hollins' miss with 24 seconds left. Each of those shots stretched the Clipper lead back to five, and the Kings were forced to foul Billups and Paul the rest of the way.

As we suspected, the faithful fans in Arco Power Balance Sleep Train Arena were completely rabid, and the Kings fought and scrapped to get that final win. But in there was too much Paul and Crawford, and not enough answers on the defensive end. Sacramento will find out it's fate as an NBA city in the next week or so -- but the Clippers have other concerns now, as it's time to prepare for our old friends the Grizzlies.

For the Sacramento perspective, visit Sactown Royalty.


Final - 4.17.2013 1 2 3 4 Total
Los Angeles Clippers 27 27 24 34 112
Sacramento Kings 26 20 24 38 108

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