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Clippers Scrape Out Victory Against Kings, 121-115

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After a tough loss on Wednesday, the best team in basketball got back on track tonight.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

It was starting to look like another dominant Clippers’ performance. A forty-point first quarter turned led into a second period that was spent flirting with a thirty-point lead. Just another dominant performance by an LAC squad that has been the league’s most dominant team so far.

But it quickly became clear that an easy win wasn’t meant to be. The Kings are an emotional team, and that often leads to dysfunction and internal issues. Tonight, they channeled that emotion into intensity, and while the tension boiled over on a few occasions, it was that heated play that kept them in the game. Sacramento scrapped throughout the third quarter, not finding a huge run but keeping the game within twenty.

Finally, at the start of the fourth and final quarter, the Kings’ effort paid off and they got the breakthrough that they’d been looking for. The lead was quickly trimmed to ten, and finally at the 7-minute mark, the Kings cut their deficit to single digits.

A tough and scrappy effort by the Kings gave them a 30-13 advantage in the final frame and just a two-point deficit. It ultimately wasn’t enough—the Clippers scored the final four points of the game after that point and ultimately won by six.

The season is 82 games long, and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Even the best teams have letdowns and even the worst teams play well sometimes. It’s nice to have the bad performances end up as wins, which is why tonight’s game isn’t so bad.

That said, the Clippers haven’t been as good in the last two games as they were in the first 11 contests of the season, and they have to do their best to get back on track. Even before tonight, the defense has obviously been concerning, as L.A. has given up over 110 points in each of their last two games, and the only opponent that they held under 100 in the last five outings was the Brook Lopez-less Brooklyn Nets.

For a team that was dominant on the defensive end of the floor at the start of the season, the Clippers have really let up on that end. Is it all focus? Probably not. Regression was natural, especially among the second unit. Focus and execution are definitely factors, though. When the Clippers’ offense really got going two weeks ago, they won a few massive blowouts in a row, including a 26-point win in San Antonio. Once the offense picked up, it didn’t take long for the defense to fall off of a cliff.

This team doesn’t need to hold a defensive rating of 90 in order to be successful, but some consistency on that end would help a lot on nights like tonight, where a strong defense would have been the difference between a hard-fought win and an easy one. The Kings scored 30 or more points in each of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters—that’s not a winning formula for LAC.

Game notes:

  • The Kings started Kosta Koufos, but that didn’t last long. He quickly left the game with foul trouble, didn’t start the second half, and only played 9 total minutes. Dave Joerger said after the game that the Kings were giving up on the two-big lineup and would go small with Cousins at center going forward.
  • J.J. Redick carried over his hot finish against Memphis—he hit seven second-half threes in that game, and was a perfect five-for-five in the first half tonight. He finished tonight with 26 points in 26 minutes.
  • DeMarcus Cousins was determined to win this game. He hates the Clippers and he was pressing early, finishing the first half with a massive 19 FGA. Ultimately, he had a nice line with 38 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists, but the Clippers didn’t do an awful job against him defensively. Cousins finished 12-29 from the field and had four turnovers. If he’d been more efficient, the Clippers probably would have lost.
  • Former Clipper Matt Barnes has struggled a lot for Sacramento this season, but he certainly was in good form tonight. Matt finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench, and he hit four threes, including some timely ones in the fourth quarter. It was kind of fun to see Matt doing his typical jawing with some of his old Clippers teammates.
  • Chris Paul isn’t 100%, and it’s easy to see when he takes the court. He tweaked his shoulder Wednesday night against Memphis, and it clearly bothered him tonight. Paul wore extra padding and shot just 2-10 from the floor, including 1-6 from deep. He was just 3-11 against Memphis. Chris was pretty clearly looking to pass tonight, as he came away with 12 assists and passed up a lot of his normal shots. That’s definitely something to monitor as the Clippers march forward with little rest.
  • Speaking of little rest, the Clippers’ schedule stays dense after Chicago tomorrow. The team won’t have consecutive days off until December, which likely means they’ll play nine more games before they get a chance to practice. Getting healthy and tweaking their offensive and defensive schemes will have to wait, and it’ll be interesting to see if the team’s overall level of play continues to slide as they get more and more removed from their last two-day break, which was in October.
  • The Clippers are now heading back to Los Angeles, where they’ll host the Chicago Bulls tomorrow night. It would have been nice for Doc Rivers to get his starters some rest tonight on the front end of the back-to-back, but it didn’t happen. Griffin and Jordan each tallied 37 minutes while Chris Paul played 33. The job for tomorrow night just got that much tougher.