Clippers save their season with comeback

LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – The biggest difference between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies in their Sunday showdown at Crypto.Com Arena was free throws. 

The Clippers snapped a five-game losing streak with a 135-129 win against Memphis, thanks in part to Los Angeles making 22 more free throws than the No. 2 team in the Western Conference. It also helped that Paul George scored a game-high 42 points and Kawhi Leonard added another 34 to lead the Clippers to their 34th win of the season.    

Marcus Morris Sr. of the Los Angeles Clippers putting on the defensive pressure against the Memphis Grizzlies. Morris and the Clippers got the best of the Grizzlies with a 135-129 win at Arena on March 5, 2023. Photo by Melinda Meijer for News4usonline

“It felt good,” guard Russell Westbrook said. “No matter how we got it, I’m happy now we can get that off our back and move forward. It just shows you, it just shows you we keep with what we know. We put our mind to it, regardless of what’s going on, we always have a chance to land with a group of guys we have in this locker room. We just have to understand that, and I think we did a good job of closing out the game tonight on the defensive side. So, then they scored 17 or whatever 16 or whatever in the fourth quarter.”

The Clippers made 33 of 35 shots from the free-throw line. Memphis didn’t get nearly as many looks as Los Angeles did, making 11 of their 15 attempts from the charity stripe. That’s a nice tidbit of what the Clippers really needed to do to put an end to their losing streak. 

The Clippers didn’t do themselves any favors by allowing Memphis, without Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks, to score 51 points on them in the third quarter alone. The Clippers’ inability to get stops in the third quarter put Los Angeles into a deep hole by the time the start of the fourth quarter got going.

The Clippers would sink to a 15-point deficit at the end of the period. 

“Yeah, I mean to give up 51 points in the third quarter has got to be a record in some capacity,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said during a postgame press conference. “But they made a lot of shots and transition defense really hurt us tonight. We didn’t get back. We didn’t get matched and they put a lot of pressure on us, you know, in transition, so we gotta do a better job with that and clean that up.

“And then pick and roll, you know, I thought Tyus Jones got to his floater, got downhill, and made a lot of good plays. So just some things that we gotta continue cleaning up, but it’s better to clean up when you win a game like this.”

With Los Angeles staring at the real possibility of losing their sixth straight game and seeing their postseason hopes slipping with each defeat, the Clippers did something the team had not done much during their five-game skid.

The Clippers played some defense. Or the Grizzlies got tired. Or both happened. Either way, it worked out great for Lue and his ballclub.

Kawhi Leonard scored 15 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to a 135-129 win against the Memphis Grizzlies at Arena on March 5, 2023. Photo by Melinda Meijer for News4usonline

“Just got down, you know, 14 points, and just said ‘Mental toughness. Just show some resiliency, continue to keep fighting, keep battling.’ And I thought by going small we were able to switch and keep Tyus Jones out, those triggers were really good for us as well,” Lue said.

“And so, just keep playing through the game and I thought [Leonard] did a good job of turning it up those last 8 minutes. PG [Paul George] was great, you know, all night. Marcus [Morris Sr.] made two big shots, which where we were stagnant all that fourth quarter, you know [Marcus Morris Sr.] made a two-point shot and a big three as well. It was a total team effort.”

Led by Leonard and George, the Clippers held the Grizzlies to just 17 points in the fourth quarter to come away with a thrilling, heart-pounding win. The Clippers scored 38 points in the final 12 minutes of the ballgame. George and Leonard combined to score 25 of those 38 points.  

“I think we really didn’t have too many mistakes,” Leonard said. “They still got some looks but we were able to limit them to one shot. I think we were able to get the rebound on pretty much all their misses and we were able to get out in transition and that carried over to our offense.”  

The Clippers were still down by 14 points at the 8:59 mark in the fourth quarter when they made their move. When Leonard converted a spectacular running dunk with 3:53 remaining in the game, the Clippers took the lead for good with a 122-121 advantage. And so how were the Clippers able to complete their comeback?

“We played harder,” George said. “That really was the difference. I think we just brought another level and we played harder. We played with some grit. We changed…I just felt tonight we had a winning spirit.”