LOS ANGELES — The Clippers were down 18 points in the fourth quarter, and in five minutes down the stretch, went on a 22-0 run to win the game by double digits. The duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were off the mark and dormant for three quarters before a domination by Leonard in the 4th. He scored 14 points on 4/4 from the field, while getting a jolt from Russell Westbrook off the bench (23 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists) to lock down the Nets and get an incredible comeback victory.
The Clippers are now 27-14 and the 4th seed in the Western Conference.
Here are my three takeaways:
When the Clippers were amidst their six game losing streak as soon as they acquired James Harden, there was much made about the fit of Harden and Westbrook together in the starting lineup. The two were then separated and staggered, which led to the incredible run of winning that the Clippers have been on since then. However, on Sunday, the team needed those two to play like they did in Houston four years ago, and they delivered.
Westbrook and Harden combined for 47 points, 16 assists, and 14 rebounds overall to help lift the Clippers in a game where they were flat throughout. These two have been better together since that rough opening stretch, and with Ivica Zubac out, we may see them paired more often in small ball lineups.
Head Coach Ty Lue mentioned after the game that Kawhi Leonard missed their last practice, was under the weather, and in danger of missing Sunday’s game. In the first three quarters, it was apparent that Leonard had heavy legs and was laboring due to his illness, but in the fourth quarter he proved why he is a championship player.
Leonard finished the game with a perfect 14 points and a +/- of +20 in only five minutes of play in the fourth quarter. That is exactly what the Clippers need if they are going to go deep in the playoffs. When Kawhi is off, or anybody in the starting lineup is off, the Clippers need a closer and a #1 guy to deliver when it counts. Kawhi Leonard is that guy.
“It was like a party in here tonight. Energy was on 100,” said James Harden after the game. For a matinee game time with a non contending Brooklyn Nets team coming in, the fans showed out. Last year, the Clippers would’ve folded and probably wouldn’t have come back from an early deficit in an afternoon game, but this year, the fans sense what is happening. Clipper fans have been waiting for a team this healthy, this determined and this serious. I can only imagine how the playoff crowds will look like if the team clinches a spot, but for now, the players are locked in and the fans seem to be too.
The Clippers stay home and try to get their first win against their “cross the hall” rival, Lakers. Tipoff is set for 7:00 PM PST on Tuesday at Crypto.com Arena.