LOS ANGELES — Maybe it was the evening start time? Improving inner fortitude? For certain: This time, there were no lazy Sunday vibes from the Clippers. Just patient, professional effort.
Didn’t hurt to have a highlight reel dunk jolt the Clippers out of their seats early, brought to attention by a soaring right-armed Paul George flush fewer than four minutes into the game.
Likely, all of the above.
The result: The Clippers maintained the upper hand Sunday at Staples Center, running their winning streak to four consecutive with a 129-96 victory against a game but depleted Indiana team. The Pacers pulled some tricks from their sleeve — triangle-and-two, box-and-one — but there was no magic to keep them from wearing down in the second half.
Indiana (8-5) kept busy with the Clippers’ stars George (20 points, seven rebounds) and Kawhi Leonard (17 points, seven rebounds, five assists), who finally figured out Indiana’s defense in the third quarter. He played all 12 minutes of the tide-turning period and went 5 for 8 for 11 points — including back-to-back dunks and a buzzer beating tipped layup.
“They tried to junk the game up,” Lue said. “Things we haven’t seen all year. It was tough for us in that first half, but I thought we did a really good job of Kawhi and PG just staying patient. There would double team, put two guys on them — I thought they did a good job of sharing the basketball and making plays for their teammates.”
“Things were able to open up for me and Paul in that third,” Leonard said. “They were playing a triangle, like a two-man pretty much zone, denying me and PG everywhere. It was giving my teammates a lot of open shots and I just told them to keep shooting. That was my focus, just trying to get them the ball in their areas and draw attention so they could knock down shots.”
And those teammates did their job. Especially Marcus Morris and Luke Kennard, who did heavy lifting off the bench, notching 20 points apiece, the most in their respective Clippers tenures.
After going 7 for 11 and 4 for 7 in his sixth game this season, Morris wanted credit only for doing what he’s paid to: “(Shoot), I was wide open,” he said. “If I can’t make a wide-open shot, then, you know, I’m in the wrong business.”
The Clippers — who’d come out flat in their previous two Sunday home games, waking up to win against Chicago after falling historically flat against Dallas — saw an early 18-point lead shrink to only six at halftime. But from there, they charged ahead and stayed there after winning the third quarter, 39-20.
The Clippers (10-4) came up with a similarly dominant third period Friday in their 38-point victory at Sacramento, where they outscored the Kings 37-16 in the quarter to put that game out of reach.
And, despite a second-quarter blip when they shot 3 for 18 from deep, the Clippers stayed on-target from long range: They finished 19 for 39 (48.7 percent) from behind the 3-point arc — the fourth consecutive game they’ve hit at least 15 3-pointers, tying a franchise record.
They held Indiana to 11 for 38 from behind the arc, and just 37 for 89 (41.6 percent) from the field, and they won the battle on the boards, with a season-high 52 rebounds to the Pacers’ 33.
“I thought the defense was great,” Lue said. “Outside of Doug (McDermott) getting off to a quick start with his shot-making (and scoring 15 of his 23 points in the first quarter).
“Overall, I thought we did a great job. I thought Kawhi took the challenge on (Malcolm) Brogdon (16 points on 7-of-21 shooting), really sat down on him and made it tough for him. Overall, outside of McDermott’s 3s, I thought we did a good job.”
Lue’s squad also outscored the Pacers in the paint, 56-48 — the first time since a loss to San Antonio on Jan. 5 that the Clippers outscored an opponent inside.
L.A. guard Lou Williams missed his second consecutive game with a sore hip and center Serge Ibaka was a late scratch, missing Sunday’s start with an illness that wasn’t related to the coronavirus, the Clippers said. Assistant coach Kenny Atkinson also was absent, away for personal reasons also didn’t have to do with the coronavirus.
The Pacers were without the recently acquired Caris LeVert (out indefinitely after an MRI revealed a small mass on his left kidney, the team announced Saturday), as well as JaKarr Sampson (back) and NBA blocks leader Myles Turner (hand) — plus Jeremy Lamb (ACL) and T.J. Warren (foot), who are undergoing longer-term rehab.
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