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Clippers pull away in fourth quarter, win 131-124

A team effort got the job done despite a few notable absences.

Detroit Pistons v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard both had revenge games against the Detroit Pistons Sunday, the first time they were playing their former team since moving to the Clippers.

But it was a third former Piston who brought the fireworks, Marcus Morris Sr. Morris had 11 points in the first and 13 in the third quarter, ending with 33 overall, ably filling the second scorer role and actually leading the team with Kawhi Leonard out. The Clippers mostly only focused on the offensive end, but it was good enough against the team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, as they won 131-124.

Paul George was more than up to the challenge of being the alpha. He had 32 points and nine assists and repeatedly got to the rim. He only earned seven free-throw attempts, and there were some times when it appeared the refs would penalize him for being so demonstrative in his displeasure, but George escaped without any technicals. He was crafty around the basket even though his three-ball wasn’t working, and he had only two turnovers as the primary ball handler.

Ivica Zubac was also excellent. He had his 11th double-double of the season, the most he’s ever had in one year and recorded a career-high seven assists. He brought the physicality in the paint and made awesome passes out of the short roll.

The game itself was a defense-optional affair for both sides. The Pistons were on the second night of a back-to-back, and rather that wait for the tired legs to set in, simply went guns blazing to start the game. They jacked 12 threes in the first quarter — making seven — and led by five at the end of the period, a lead that could have been larger were it not for poor clock management.

The Clippers had done well to not allow opponents to take a high volume of threes on the homestand until this game, and they compounded that poor defensive effort by failing to get up enough threes of their own. Hot shooting from Morris, who was responsible for all three of the team’s 3-pointers, including one right at the buzzer, helped L.A. stay within contact.

Ty Lue made the decision to go small to end the period rather than bring in center when Ivica Zubac sat. Patrick Patterson got in for five minutes in the second quarter, but DeMarcus Cousins remained glued to the bench. That certainly helped juice the offense, as the Clippers shot 69.4 percent in the half.

A good sign in the first half was that the Clippers won the non-Paul George minutes, if only by a slim margin. The team has struggled this season without George and Kawhi Leonard on the court, but L.A. was plus one while George was on the bench, leaving the starters to have to make up a four-point deficit when he returned.

Nic Batum was crucial to that effort. His transition defense was excellent, and Lue kept him on the court for almost the whole second quarter to help stabilize the Clippers on both ends. Batum simply couldn’t miss from distance, as he made all five of his threes in the game, and his nine rebounds were second only to Zubac.

L.A. took its first lead of the game at 61-60 on a lob from George to Zubac and went into intermission up 63-62.

The Pistons revved things up again to start the third, scoring 22 points in the first five minutes. The Clippers only missed six shots in the entire frame and were still outscored by six points because of their inability to get any stops.

But they finally started applying some defensive pressure in the fourth. Jackson had a chase down block that led to a Terance Mann three to tie the score. Detroit called timeout, and the Clippers proceeded to force a shot-clock violation on the ensuing possession. L.A. limited the Pistons to 24 points in the competitive portion of the fourth quarter, not exactly a defensive effort reminiscent of the 90s Knicks, but a moral victory after allowing more than 120 points on the evening.

The Clippers finish their homestand 7-2 and head on the road to face Indiana Tuesday.