Smelling salts were not required to revive the Clippers on Sunday night. All they needed was a whiff of desperation, that mixture of fear and dread that comes with blowing a 15-point third-quarter lead to a team you should manhandle and missing a chance to gain ground in the playoff race.
That moment came with 3 minutes 11 seconds left in Staples Center, where it appeared the Clippers would succumb to a Brooklyn three-point barrage that gave the far-out-of-contention Nets an eight-point advantage.
"I looked at the score, and I was like, 'C'mon man, not this — we can't lose this game,' " Clippers guard Austin Rivers said. "No disrespect to them, but we need this game more than they do. We were up 15 and had multiple opportunities to put them away. Then we're down eight with [three] minutes left … a lot of teams let go of the rope there, and we kept going."
Rivers and the Clippers kept tugging, kept pulling, kept grinding, and their efforts were rewarded with a dramatic 123-120 comeback victory over the Nets before a crowd of 16,384.
Rivers gave the Clippers a 121-120 lead with 33.8 seconds left, drilling a 27-foot step-back three-pointer in the face of Nets guard Caris LeVert, who burned the Clippers for a career-high 27 points.
After a LeVert turnover on the other end, Lou Williams salvaged a rare off-night with a 16-foot fade-away jumper to give the Clippers a 123-120 lead with 8.9 seconds left. Sindarius Thornwell sealed the win with a block of a Joe Harris three-point attempt with 2.7 seconds left.
"Honestly, it felt like at the end of the game, our guys said, 'We need this game,' " Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "That's how it felt, like whatever it takes to get this game, we're gonna do it, and we did that. Our execution down the stretch was as good as it can get offensively and defensively."
Austin Rivers scored 14 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, making 10 of 15 shots from the field and four of eight three-pointers, and Tobias Harris had 26 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots for the Clippers, who are a half-game out of the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Williams scored 21 points despite making only eight of 22 shots and one of six three-pointers, Jordan had 17 points, 15 rebounds and made nine of 10 free throws, and Milos Teodosic added 14 points.
But the Nets, who made 19 of 45 three-pointers and got 75 points from their bench players, turned a seven-point deficit to start the fourth quarter into an eight-point lead (118-110) when LeVert hit a long three-pointer with 3:11 left.
The Clippers clawed to within two on a Rivers 11-foot floater, a Teodosic cutting layup and two Jordan free throws that made it 118-116 with 1:58 left. LeVert and Williams exchanged driving layups, the Nets clinging to a 120-118 lead.
Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie missed a jumper, giving the Clippers a chance to tie or take the lead. Austin Rivers seized the opportunity, nailing his three-pointer to put the Clippers ahead, 121-120.
"I came down, and I was like, 'If I miss, this is a bad shot,' but sometimes it's swing big, miss big," Rivers said.
"I love those moments. You have to be willing to miss and deal with failure. When you feel that way, more often than not, those shots go in."
On the Clippers' final possession, Williams held the ball near midcourt, waved off a pick from Jordan, drove LeVert to the left elbow and created more than enough separation to nail his 16-footer.
"This group, they have that intangible where they really believe they can come back and win games," Doc Rivers said. "Some nights they don't, but a lot of nights they do."