Paul George, Kawhi Leonard energy Clippers comeback vs. Memphis

The Clippers started this season believing their depth and expertise would set them aside in a category of their very own inside the West.

They have completed simply that. Over the primary 67 video games, they’ve undergone a novel transformation, going from what many inside the group believed could be one of many NBA’s greatest groups to maybe its most confounding. And over the course of Sunday’s last 12 minutes, a franchise whose course appeared nearing free-fall went full throttle to shut the season’s gutsiest and most desperately wanted victory, a 135-129 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

“It felt like the stakes were high,” coach Tyronn Lue stated.

His staff trailing by 14 at house to a short-handed opponent lacking its stars, Lue raised a subject with the gamers he has mentioned publicly for a number of days, as their shedding streak grew to 5 and the Clippers earned an ominous distinction — the one Western Conference staff but to win because the All-Star break.

“Just said mental toughness, just show some resiliency,” Lue stated. “Continue to keep fighting, keep battling.”

Behind 42 factors by Paul George and 34 from Kawhi Leonard, together with 15 within the fourth quarter, the Clippers ended their skid on an evening when, at one level, the championship aspirations appeared misplaced.

After permitting 51 third-quarter factors to Memphis, the Clippers allowed simply 17 within the fourth quarter.

“Kawhi did a good job of turning it up that last eight minutes,” Lue stated.

“PG was great all night. Marcus [Morris Sr.] made two big shots when we were stagnant in that fourth quarter.”

Kawhi Leonard dunks to offer the Clippers a 122-121 lead within the fourth quarter Sunday night time in opposition to the Memphis Grizzlies.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

At the season’s begin, the schedule’s stretch run after the All-Star break appeared as an opportunity to relaxation and tune up for the playoffs. Instead, a streak that continued by way of one-point losses in Denver, San Francisco and Sacramento changed into a gantlet of survival simply to stay within the postseason image.

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And it was why the stakes Sunday had been weightier than standard, their nearly full-strength roster — down solely Norm Powell and his injured left shoulder — holding no excuse in opposition to Memphis. Its All-Star ignition in Ja Morant is lacking at the very least two video games, his timetable for a return unclear past that, amid an NBA investigation into the guard’s Instagram video by which he posed with a gun.

Starting massive man Steven Adams had a harm knee. An Achilles tendon tear late final week sidelined athletic wing Brandon Clarke for the remainder of the season. And drawing too many technical fouls had drawn a suspension for chief instigator Dillon Brooks.

“Tonight was a good start for us,” Lue stated.

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is fouled by the Grizzlies' David Roddy during the second quarter Sunday.

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is fouled by the Grizzlies’ David Roddy through the second quarter Sunday. Leonard completed with 34 factors.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“Especially after having some bad luck, and even our luck was so bad we even got struck by lightning,” a reference to the staff’s airplane being hit final week en path to Denver.

“It’s just been a rough week and a half, so we just got to continue to keep fighting through it.”

They produced one other reminder why they’re treading water — and why a flicker of hope in capturing their potential stays inside their locker room, as they improved to 34-33.

Instead of tweaking his beginning lineup, Lue turned once more to his commonplace look of Leonard, George, Ivica Zubac and Morris.

Yet when the Clippers nonetheless appeared lackluster at halftime, with Morris’ affect minimal after lacking all 4 of his pictures whereas including one rebound and one help, Lue began Nicolas Batum over Morris within the second half.

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Within one minute, their five-point halftime lead had expanded to 11. But lower than eight minutes later, with their protection once more in tatters and three largely preventable turnovers resulting in seven Grizzlies factors, the Clippers trailed by 10.

And when Grizzlies reserve Santi Aldama turned and spun on Terance Mann on the free-throw line with a drive ending in a dunk, and Desmond Bane adopted on their subsequent possession with a three-pointer in transition, the lead swelled to 16.

The Grizzlies totaled 51 factors within the third quarter, a nadir for a protection that has trended among the many NBA’s worst for a lot of the final two months.

Between the third and fourth quarters, because the Clippers contemplated dig themselves out of a 15-point gap, reserve Robert Covington — who obtained reward from Lue after a season-high 31 minutes Friday however was again out of the rotation in opposition to Memphis — appeared on with a thousand-yard stare from his bench seat as Leonard sat subsequent to him equally with out expression.

Then got here the avalanche, the Grizzlies unable to attain for almost six minutes till a layup by Bane that ended a run of 17 consecutive fourth-quarter factors by the Clippers. Their run was punctuated by a Russell Westbrook dunk and foul. The run grew to 24-2.

Eric Gordon scored 17 factors off the bench for the Clippers and Mason Plumlee added 15 factors.