For much of the last month, the Clippers’ success has hinged on big individual performances. With Blake Griffin and Patrick Beverley out, and Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic both missing over half of the games, it’s come down to big nights from Lou Williams and Austin Rivers to lift the Clippers to victory.
That wasn’t the case tonight against the Sacramento Kings. In what may very well be the team’s last game without Griffin, the team’s offense surged to a 30-point first quarter despite slow starts from both Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Two-way contract player Jamil Wilson got the party started, scoring 14 first quarter points (his previous career high in a game was 13) and hitting four three-pointers. As Williams and the second unit got going in the second period, the Clippers put together a 41-point quarter to build a 71-53 halftime lead, and they never looked back, coasting to a 122-95 victory.
Williams finished with 21 points on 7-11 shooting, but Montrezl Harrell snatched away the title of leading scorer with some garbage-time production that left him with 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists in 22 minutes. DeAndre Jordan chipped in 13 points and 15 rebounds of his own, while Sindarius Thornwell had a triumphant return to the rotation, contributing 8 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals in 22 minutes. Sam Dekker continued his recent run of good play with 10 points and 6 rebounds.
The Kings’ defense struggled throughout the night, as their early missed rotations led to open threes and a later lack of help led to repeated lob dunks for the Clippers’ big men. When the high-energy L.A. bench came into the game, a lack of either speed or intensity (or both) on Sacramento’s part led to repeated run-outs, with the Clippers’ second unit repeatedly ending quick transition possessions with dunks or free throws. If there was a bright spot for the Kings, it was the play of young center Willie Cauley-Stein, who repeatedly made himself available to passers at the rim, finishing with 17 points on 8-10 shooting—most of which has to have been dunks. He also had some well-rounded contributions: 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals in his 25 minutes of play.
This win pulls the Clippers slightly ahead of the rest of the Pacific Division’s cellar, giving them a little bit of breathing room above each of Phoenix, the L.A. Lakers, and Sacramento. More importantly, however, it works along with a loss by the Utah Jazz to pull the Clippers into a tie for 9th place (with one fewer win and one fewer loss than Utah), positioning them to set their sights on a playoff spot. Oklahoma City and Denver are tied for 5th at 19-15, while Portland and New Orleans are tied for 7th at 17-16. The 14-19 Clippers still have a good amount of ground to make up, but with Griffin returning to face lottery opponents in their next three games (Lakers, Hornets, and Grizzlies), and head-to-head matchups coming in January against each of the teams mentioned above, they’re in a position to make the run that they need.