The Clippers were clear: There was no defending the way they played during a blowout loss Saturday.
To do something about it, they went on the offensive one day later.
Propelled by a 47-point second quarter that dug them out of an early, double-digit deficit, the Clippers continued to torch New York’s defense in the third quarter before holding on late for a 135-132 victory at Staples Center.
A day after center Montrezl Harrell questioned his team’s desire following Saturday’s 26-point defeat against Memphis while noting he did “my job day in, and day out,” he backed up his words with a 22-point first half that helped the Clippers survive a disastrous defensive performance in the first quarter. Harrell tied his career high with 34 points while adding six rebounds and was part of a bench unit that scored 85 points — the most ever in a game in Clippers franchise history.
The Clippers (26-12) shot 54%, including 56% from the three-point line, to hold off New York (10-26) in a shooting contest. The Knicks made 57% of their shots, including 52% from deep. Marcus Morris led all scorers with 38 points.
Without Kawhi Leonard, who missed his 10th game as part of the team’s load management strategy to limit his workload, the Clippers started a big lineup with four players 6-foot-7 or taller to challenge a long Knicks roster. But neither the Clippers’ bitter taste since allowing a season-high 140 points against Memphis, nor the revamped lineup, could keep the Knicks from scoring 45 points, the most allowed by the Clippers in a first quarter this season. New York made 76% of its shots and led by 16 points entering the second quarter.
One way to overcome a defense-free first quarter is to produce the kind of offense in the second that hasn’t been seen in 33 years.
The Clippers scored 47 in the second quarter, while holding the Knicks to 24, to lead 76-69 at the half. It was the highest-scoring quarter by the franchise since March 7, 1986 and was fueled by Lou Williams’ career-best five three-pointers and 18 second-quarter points. He finished with 32 points and nine assists.
The stunning reversal began with a 10-1 run to open the quarter and was symbolized, for a Clippers team whose effort was called into question the previous day, by a play not reflected by the scoreboard: reserve guard Jerome Robinson’s dive for a loose ball that forced a jump ball. Robinson was tapped on the head by several teammates for the hustle, and the comeback continued. Within the second quarter’s first five minutes, the Clippers erased their 16-point deficit, after three consecutive three-pointers by Williams, and had pulled ahead by three after a three-pointer by Paul George.
Both teams were shooting nearly 60% at halftime and those numbers barely dipped in the third quarter. One day after reaching the 100-point mark with five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Clippers eclipsed the century mark during the third quarter, the league-high ninth time they’ve done so this season.
Yet even after scoring 114 points through three quarters, the Clippers were not in the clear. Rivers left George in the game with five fouls with seven minutes to play, trusting that the star would not foul out, but he was called for his sixth foul, an offensive foul, less than eight seconds later. A replay review requested by Rivers did not overturn the call. George exited with 32 points. The Clippers finished the game with three players scoring 30 or more points in a game for the first time in team history.
His absence coincided with an offensive outage, as the Clippers made two of 11 shots to open the quarter. Their lead, with 4:51 to play, was down to three points.
A pair of Harrell dunks, sandwiched around a JaMychal Green three-pointer from the corner, and a floater from Williams on a right-side drive with 18 seconds left provided breathing room but not closure. Five points by Morris in the final 42 seconds kept the Knicks within three points with 10.4 seconds remaining, but free throws by Williams finally pushed the game out of reach.