At several points last week during their three-game trip, the Clippers left arenas frustrated that their composure had broken and games had been lost because of it.
Monday night they held firm as the Minnesota Timberwolves cut their lead and got in their face, the Clippers holding on for a 120-109 victory at Staples Center.
The Timberwolves (4-7) lead the league in drama but could not produce enough suspense late thanks to a cutting dunk from the Clippers’ Danilo Gallinari that created a 10-point lead with 66 seconds left. The Clippers (6-4) exhaled from there.
“Our composure was a lot better just all throughout the game,” forward Tobias Harris said. “It’s something to grow on as a unit and obviously we’re not going to be perfect at that. It’s a game, we’re competitors, we’re going to be emotional but we just got to continue to move on to the next play every time.”
They did that enough Monday in a game that also served as a study in contrasts: one team raving about its locker-room harmony, the other enduring a public breakup with its All-Star guard weeks after he asked for a trade.
The player in question, the Timberwolves’ Jimmy Butler, scored 20 points but wasn’t much of a factor until the fourth quarter. His teammate Karl-Anthony Towns dominated the first half with 16 points and 10 rebounds and then disappeared, taking only four shots after halftime.
Harris scored 22 points to tie for the game high with Gallinari but didn’t score in the fourth quarter as the Clippers turned to different options, including Patrick Beverley, who finished with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.
“In the fourth I just thought Pat defensively just alone was phenomenal,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s funny, we had a hot guy in Tobias and we didn’t bring him in until five minutes [remained] because the group that was on the floor was increasing the lead. It just says a lot about this team.”
Leading by five with 2:45 remaining in the first quarter after a jumper by Derrick Rose, the Timberwolves were outscored 28-17 during the next nine minutes as Clippers reserves opened a 51-45 lead. They led 63-59 at halftime, with the teams taking entirely different routes to each shooting 51.1%: The Clippers made nine of their 18 first-half three-pointers, while the Timberwolves found cutting lanes to compensate for three-for-11 three-point shooting.
Harris made four by himself as L.A. finished shooting 14 for 31 from three-point range a day after Rivers implored his team to shoot more threes.
“I love that,” Rivers said. “I told our guys we were settling for more contested twos.”
Rose and the Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell both were issued technicals after trading words at midcourt early in the fourth quarter following defense from Milos Teodosic that Rose took issue with. Another skirmish nearly erupted with 5:32 to play. Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson shoved Beverley in the chest. Gibson had fallen in the key, having tripped over Beverley’s right foot, while attempting to chase the Clippers’ fast break and felt he’d been tripped. Gibson was assessed a technical, but afterward he and Beverley smiled at each other.
Calling Beverley “my guy” after the game, Gibson said he “felt so stupid” about the scene and added that he owed Beverley a bottle of tequila as an apology.
Butler, who has lived in the eye of Minnesota’s storm, awoke after a four-point first half in the fourth quarter. His steal, score and free throw with 4:16 left cut his team’s deficit to four, only to be answered by a three from Gallinari.
With two minutes left Butler rose for a spectacular alley-oop and the crowd saw glimpses of a player who reportedly has eyes for the Clippers if he is traded. But after cutting past Gallinari with 1:20 remaining, he could not finish a layup at the rim and an eight-point Clippers lead soon grew to 10 after Gallinari cut backdoor for a dunk.