The Clippers reached a breaking point on New Year's Eve, when a 26-point loss in Oklahoma City, yet another game they played without injured stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, extended their losing streak to six games. Coach Doc Rivers could sense it.
"I thought after the Oklahoma City game, it kind of hit the fan," Rivers said. "They were like, 'Enough. We know we have injuries. Stop making excuses and let's win.' We had to fight [through adversity]. We had to face it head on.
"I don't know what the old saying is, but it's something like, 'If you're going through hell, keep going, and you'll get through it.' That's what our guys did. They kept going."
They've barely slowed since, extending their year-opening winning streak to five games with a bench-infused 105-96 victory over the Orlando Magic in Staples Center on Wednesday night.
J.J. Redick scored a team-high 22 points with six rebounds and five assists, Paul had 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and DeAndre Jordan had 10 points and 20 rebounds, his NBA-leading sixth game with 20 rebounds or more.
But it was reserve forward Marreese Speights who scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, making five of six shots and three of four three-point shots, and struggling reserve guard Jamal Crawford who made three free throws to open the fourth quarter for a 76-75 Clippers lead, and reserve point guard Raymond Felton who hit two big driving baskets to keep the Clippers in front.
"The end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth, the bench was huge for us," Rivers said. "I felt like we couldn't get away from them tonight. Give them credit, they hit some big shots. But Mo and Raymond and that whole group, I thought they were terrific.
A 26-foot shot by Speights, his second of the quarter, gave the Clippers a 95-90 lead with 5 minutes 38 seconds left. Four other starters had returned by that point, and a Redick three-pointer and 16-foot step-back jumper helped push the lead to 100-94 with 1:19 left.
Paul clinched the victory when he dribbled through the lane, underneath the basket and to the left corner, from where he made a three-pointer for a 103-94 lead with 49.8 seconds left.
In addition to his long-range marksmanship, the 6-foot-10, 255-pound Speights showed athleticism inside, taking a pick-and-roll pass from Crawford and dipping under Mario Hezonja for a left-handed scoop shot early in the fourth.
"It's a lot of fun when Mo gets it going, because he's one of those guys who plays with a lot of energy and excitement, and we kind of feed off that," Paul said. "And when he's out there, it opens up the court so much. It opens up driving lanes, and when he's shooting like that, it gets everyone going."
The Magic entered with a 16-23 record, losers of five of six games, without second-leading scorer Serge Ibaka and a team that Coach Frank Vogel said "hadn't played good defense for the better part of six weeks or so."
But Orlando was feisty behind the shooting of Aaron Gordon, who scored 16 of his 28 points in the first quarter, Evan Fournier (16 points) and Jodie Meeks (14 points). The Clippers outrebounded the Magic, 49-35, but they committed 21 turnovers.
Gordon burned the Clippers for 33 points, making four of eight three-point shots, in a 113-108 loss in Orlando on Dec. 14, and he looked as if he might surpass that output when he made all six of his shots, including two three-pointers, in the first quarter Wednesday.
"We did nothing different, literally nothing," Rivers said, when asked how the Clippers held Gordon to 12 points after the first quarter. "He just didn't make as many shots."