LOS ANGELES, CA – Since their Jan. 8 defeat to the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers have been on a short hot streak. The Clippers used balanced scoring Sunday evening at STAPLES Center to handle the visiting Indiana Pacers easily, coming away with a 129-96 win.
Even on a night in which Lou Williams was forced to sit out because of discomfort from a hip-related injury, Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue saw his bench come through in a big way. Led by Luke Kennard and Marcus Morris Sr., Lue saw his bench score 65 points in the Clippers’ fourth win in a row. Kennard and Morris scored 20 points apiece to help offset the loss of Williams.
But it was the team’s overall defense that Lue had the highest praise for during his postgame press conference. The Clippers did not allow Indiana to score more than 29 points in a quarter and held the Pacers to just 41 percent shooting from the field.
“I thought our defense was great,” Lue said. “Outside of [Doug McDermott] getting off to a quick start with his shot-making, overall I thought we did a great job. I thought [Kawhi Leonard] took the challenge on [Malcolm Brogdon]. Really sat down on him and made it tough for him. Just overall, besides [Doug McDermott’s] threes, I thought we did a good job.”
The Clippers got off to a hot start in the first quarter (36-26) and then essentially closed the game out in the third period. The Clippers took a 39-29 lead after the first quarter. And after Indiana showed some moxie in the second period in which the Pacers outscored the Clippers, 29-25, Los Angeles simply took control of the game after halftime.
The Clippers held the Pacers to just 43 percent shooting from the floor while making 60 percent of their shots in taking a 10-point advantage in the first period. Nursing only a six-point lead at the beginning of the third quarter, the Clippers, behind Kawhi Leonard’s 11 points, erupted for 39 points in the period while limiting Indiana to 20.
“My focus was just to come out and play defense and keep sharing the ball and play to win,” said Leonard, who finished the game with 17 points. “That’s all I did. Things were able to open up for me and Paul [George] in the third and just kept pushing. The [Indiana Pacers] were playing a triangle, like a two-man zone, denying me and [Paul George] everywhere and it was giving my teammates wide-open shots. I told them to keep shooting. That was my focus, just trying to get them the ball in their areas and draw attention so they can knock down shots.”
In that decisive third quarter, the Clippers forced the Pacers into shooting 35 percent from the field. On the flip side of that coin, Los Angeles connected on 58 percent of their field goal attempts. Paul George (20 points, 7 rebounds), the other half of the Clippers’ superstar duo, commented after the game about the state of the team’s chemistry up to this point.
“The chemistry is amazing,” George said. “This team has a real bond, its fun, this team is locked in, we’re together. It is one of the best locker rooms I’ve been around and been in. You know hopefully you guys see it, just how well we’re meshing, and we are going to continue to build off of that. We like where we are at, and we like where we’re headed, and we want to see this thing play all of the way through.”
Morris takes his evaluation of his teammates being able to mesh together a step further.
“I feel like our energy is way better this season,” Morris said. “I think guys are buying in, guys are enjoying playing the game. Obviously, there’s been a lot of talk about [Paul George] and how he was feeling going into this season. Like I said last game, I’m excited to see how far he can take it. He’s playing very well, very unselfish, under control, both sides of the floor also. I’m excited to see how far he can take this like I said, he’s definitely playing MVP basketball.”
Good or bad, the chemistry of a team starts with the interaction with the players and coaches. Morris said the dialogue between players and coaches thus far has been what the team needed.
“I would say perfect. It’s really open,” Morris added. “You can say what you want, everybody has a lot of respect for each other and [the coaches] listen to the players. We are just going forward. The dialogue between players and coaches has to be strong if you’re trying to win a championship. [Tyronn Lue] understands that because he’s won one. He’s a championship coach and I’m excited for him, and also the staff is doing a really good job. The whole thing just fits.”