The Clippers ran up and down the court with gusto Wednesday night against the Sacramento Kings. They overcame numerous and all-too-familiar shortcomings by making up for them with gritty play. They shot reasonably well, rebounded strongly at times and defended their end of the floor as if it truly mattered.
Then the fourth quarter began and the Clippers went kerplunk.
Hey, it happens to the best of them. It just seems to happen to the Clippers more often than it should on their home floor. A 93-89 loss to the Kings before a crowd of 18,087 was their fifth in six games this season at Staples Center.
To think the Clippers had so much going for them during a strong third quarter in which they outscored the Kings, 22-19, holding them to eight-for-28 shooting (28.6%), and seemed on the verge of their most significant victory in 12 games this season.
Instead, they lost for the eighth time.
Whipping the Golden State Warriors at Oakland on Monday and ending a three-game losing streak was all well and good. A victory over the Kings would have been a huge confidence boost for a team desperately in need of one.
"We should have won," center Michael Olowokandi said after scoring eight points and taking 12 rebounds. "It's a tough one, a tough one."
The Clippers faded away down the stretch, succumbing to the Kings' superior depth and balance. In the final analysis, the Kings won by staying close and keeping their wits about them when the Clippers seemed poised to break free in the third.
Sacramento also survived a charge from a hot-shooting Corey Maggette, who got the Clippers rolling with 13 points in the third and two free throws and a three-pointer in the final 46.5 seconds.
That's all the Clippers got late, however.
In fact, they let a chance slip through their hands to tie the Kings after Maggette's two free throws with 46.5 left and Sacramento ahead, 89-86. Bobby Jackson missed a jumper with the 24-second shot clock winding down, the rebound glanced off the hands of Maggette and Olowokandi and the Kings kept possession.
The Clippers lost a seven-point lead in the third quarter after Hedo Turkoglu drove to the hoop for two, made a jump shot, then scored off Chris Webber's missed free throw, giving the Kings an 81-75 lead with 5:30 to play.
Maggette's three-pointer, the last of his season-best 30 points, got the Clippers to within 91-89 in the closing seconds, but Peja Stojakovic made two free throws for a 93-89 lead for the Kings with 15.2 seconds remaining.
The Clippers failed to score again.
Webber and Jackson scored 19 apiece for the Kings, playing without point guard Mike Bibby, who has a stress fracture in his right foot and isn't expected to play again until the middle of next month.
"We had them on the ropes," Elton Brand said after scoring 21 points and taking 10 rebounds for his 11th consecutive double-double. "They just have so many weapons that it's tough to keep them on the ropes. They stepped up and made big plays. We need to step up and make big plays. This was a winnable game."
The Clippers got off to their customary sluggish start, missing five of their first seven shots and committing two turnovers en route to a 10-4 deficit in the first five minutes. The Kings were no bargain either, fumbling around and looking slightly bored with having to play the Clippers rather than the Lakers.
Now there's an opponent to get Sacramento's blood boiling.
Soon enough, the Clippers exploited the Kings' lackluster play. Webber picked up his fourth foul seconds before halftime and the Clippers had a 46-44 lead and the momentum on their side. Early in the third, they led by 51-44. Late in the third, they held a 68-62 advantage.
"It's disappointing because we expect to win every game, contrary to what anybody else says," Clipper Coach Alvin Gentry said. "We thought we played well enough to win. I still think we're going to be a good team. I still think we're going to win a lot of games."