There was point midway through the fourth quarter, when it became apparent that no matter the outcome of Sunday night’s matchup with the defending champion Golden State Warriors, the Clippers clearly belong among the best teams in the Western Conference.
It wasn’t the voluminous 3-point shooting. It wasn’t the brilliance of Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris. Or even the grittiness of Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell. Those things were all there. For the most part, it was quite simply a sense that the Clippers, even amidst what would be a heart-wrenching, 129-127, loss in Oakland, have both the personnel and sticktoitiveness to survive.
They answered the Warriors (23-11) when heeded, time and again. In the lead for much of the first two and a half quarters, the Clippers withstood a typical Warriors run in the third quarter. Later, after regaining the lead with 4:26 remaining on a Harrell jump hook, they were, again, wobbled by a 9-0 Warriors burst. They responded, as they have most of the season, with a run of their own, capped by an unlikely 3-pointer and even more unlikely one-handed, follow dunk from Avery Bradley to lock the game at 127 apiece with 19.6 seconds to go.
Of course, Stephen Curry would take Harrell to the rack off a switch and spin a layup home with 0.5 seconds on the clock and Harris, who tossed in a team-high 32 points, would miss a desperation heave at the buzzer to dash any hopes of a Clippers upset.
Still, there were plenty of glaring positives to take away for the Clippers (19-14). Foremost, they played a near-healthy Warriors team to a standstill on the scoreboard for 47:58. This after beating them in LA a month ago. They got cooking from 3-point range in the first half, making 13 of their 16 attempts, And while they finished 18-of-23 overall, the Clippers were able to adjust offensively when Golden State zeroed in on closing out beyond the arc.
Harris made six 3-pointers and Gallinari went 5-for-5 to finish with 25 points and 11 boards. Lou Williams scored 25 points off the bench and Beverley (10) and Harrell (13) helped the Clippers bench tally 53 points combined.
The game may have been different, though, had Williams not taken an inadvertent pinkie to the eye from Curry in the fourth quarter. The league’s top bench scorer stayed down on the court for several minutes before stepping to the foul line with his left eye virtually closed to connect on 1-of-2 free throws. He would leave the game and not return. In 29 games with Williams in the lineup, the Clippers have a record of 19-10.
Despite Williams’ injury and allowing 15 offensive boards and 36 free throws to Golden State, the Clippers managed to stick around long enough to give themselves a shot. Seemingly, throughout the night, they made winning plays when it mattered. Beverley saved a possession with one of only five offensive rebounds for the Clippers after Golden State stifled the Clippers for the first 23 seconds of the shot clock. The play immediately led to three free throws from Williams after he was fouled on 3-point attempt from the corner. Bradley hustled after a Harris steal and was able to tie the game on missed layup. Harrell scrambled to loose balls. Beverley agitated Curry, who had a game-high 42 points, into a technical foul.
At times, the Clippers somewhat resembled a less flashy version of the Warriors. They made threes, shared the ball brilliantly, defended late, switched everything, and remained composed in clutch moments. Ultimately, the real Warriors, the ones with Curry and Kevin Durant, who added an almost casual 35 points, put the game away. But it doesn’t mean the Clippers might be a little closer to them than was thought before tipoff tonight.
The Clippers made 13 3-pointers in the first half, which was the second most 3-pointers made in a half in franchise history. They made 14 in a half against Houston on Dec. 22, 2017... It’s the first time since 2014-15 the Clippers have started the season 1-1 against Golden State… The two-point loss is the smallest margin of defeat in the series since Dec. 25, 2013. The Clippers have only won four matchups in that span… The Clippers committed 15 turnovers... The Clippers scored 30 or more points in three separate quarters. However, the difference in the game was arguably the third where LA was outscored, 36-23, by Golden State…
THEY GOT NEXT
The Clippers return home and after two days, face the high-octane Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, Dec. 26 at 7:30 p.m. The Kings came from behind to beat the Pelicans on Sunday and do not play again until Wednesday.