Clippers have to scrap and rally to fend off Pistons

by 24USATVFeb. 11, 2024, 8 a.m. 20
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LOS ANGELES — Typical of a matinee game, the Clippers stumbled Saturday and fell behind by double digits, this time to the lowly Detroit Pistons. And before they could figure a way out, they first needed to quell a late-game push from their opponents before clinching a 112-106 victory.

The Clippers trailed by 13 points early in the first half and by nine at halftime. Then Paul George and Kawhi Leonard upped their games to lead the Clippers to the tougher-than-expected victory.

“We were sloppy and then scrappy,” George said.

And that is what can happen, Coach Tyronn Lue said no matter the time of day.

“You’re not going to play great every night and like I told you before the game, Monty has his team playing fast, they’re playing well together,” Lue said. “They execute and their pace, like attacking the basket, attacking the rims, especially with (Jaden) Ivey, really puts a lot of pressure on us.

“But I give our guys credit for just staying with it, being resilient and finding a way to win this game.”

That came largely at the hands of George, who scored 20 of his game-high 33 points in the second half – 15 in the fourth quarter – and Leonard, who posted 24 points and five assists.

The Clippers went to work quickly in the second half, chipping away at the Pistons’ lead to pull within 88-86 in the fourth quarter after James Harden was fouled on a short jumper and made the free throw to complete the three-point play. Less than a minute later, he again was fouled, this time on a 3-point attempt, and made all three free throws to give the Clippers their first lead, 89-88, since early in the game.

The lead changed several times before Norman Powell’s driving layup with 6:59 left gave the Clippers a 96-92 lead they never relinquished. Powell later left the game after getting hit with an elbow in the face. He needed stitches to close the two-inch gash between his eyebrows.

The Clippers didn’t let up. The Pistons kept up the pressure, but the closest they could come down the stretch was five as George continued his assault.

George gave the Clippers a 98-94 lead with a powerful dunk, just a part of his second-half effort. His shooting had been off lately because of a lingering groin issue but he showed no effects of the injury Saturday. He shot 14 of 24 from the field and 4 of 13 from 3-point range and had five rebounds and three assists.

Harden finished with 14 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Russell Westbrook had 13 points and Amir Coffey 12.

More likely, it was the energetic play of a young Pistons team, not the early hour, that initially threw the Clippers off. The Clippers became only the fifth team in NBA history not to record an offensive rebound among their 35 total rebounds.

“We played early against one of the young teams and you got to be ready for them,” George said. “I thought they were ready to come out.

“We had to make the adjustments about playing the small ball and that helped us with creating energy. I think that was just the turning point of the game.”

The victory put the Clippers (35-16) into second place in the Western Conference, a half-game behind the Minnesota Timberwolves (36-16). The teams meet on Monday at Crypto.com Arena.

Amid a potentially historically bad season, the Pistons (7-44) came into the afternoon game having won their past two games, and while their play was erratic at times and some shots missed the basket completely, they played much more aggressively than the veteran team on the other side of the court.

The Clippers clearly weren’t ready for what the Pistons brought to Crypto.com Arena.

Jaden Ivey led Detroit with 23 points, Cade Cunningham added 22 points, six rebounds and 10 assists, and Simone Fontecchio, who was traded to Detroit by the Utah Jazz, scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds off the bench in his Pistons debut.

Coach Tyronn Lue knew what the Clippers were getting into, warning that the Clippers needed to be prepared to run against a team that had turned over nearly half their team before the trade deadline.

“We just have to be ready for today from start to finish,” Lue said. “You can’t think about how they started or the losing streak and all that. They’re a pretty good team, they are playing better basketball and they’re going to be a pretty good team.”

Almost better than the Clippers on Saturday.

The Clippers couldn’t get out of their own way in the first half. They turned the ball over eight times, which led to 11 Pistons points. They were 6 of 19 from 3-point range and were outrebounded by 17, posting no offensive boards, in the first 24 minutes that ultimately led to a 58-49 Pistons halftime lead.

Largely, the Pistons outplayed the Clippers, who were looking to get back on a winning streak after losing to the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday.

Not helping matters was the poor shooting by Harden and Mann in the opening half. Harden was 1 of 5 – all 3-point attempts – and Mann was scoreless with two shots.

Lue had mentioned before the game that Pistons coach Monte Williams would have the young team playing like contenders at some point once they learn how to win. Despite their record, the Pistons have been in several games down the stretch but have been unable to close out opponents.

“The execution is there; the young guys are getting better. They are understanding the system. That’s all you can ask for.”

And not to notch an elusive victory against your team.

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