— It was starting to have a familiar feeling for the Clippers, on a much smaller scale.
They held a double-digit lead late in a game against a team that appeared ready to concede. Then came an inability to score for long stretches, some defensive lapses and the seemingly unthinkable.
The Sacramento Kings came all the way back from a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit to lead the Clippers in the final minutes Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena, prompting gleeful “Beat L.A.!” chants as fans waved colorful glowing bracelets.
Mercifully for the Clippers, the parallels between their season opener and their epic playoff collapse against the Houston Rockets last spring ended there. There was a happy ending for the Clippers after they staged their own comeback for a 111-104 win in which they scored 11 of the final 15 points.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan tenderly placed his hand on the back of Blake Griffin’s head in the final second to celebrate the wild finish. Paul Pierce’s 10-foot fadeaway jumper with 2 minutes 21 seconds left broke a 100-100 deadlock and the Clippers made all of the meaningful plays the rest of the way to avoid a massive disappointment.
“The best thing we did was even when they took that lead, we just had that poise,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said.
Clippers guard Austin Rivers intercepted a cross-court pass by the Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins, Jordan dunked a lob from Paul and the Clippers made enough free throws over the final minute to avert the kind of disaster that struck them against Houston, when they lost a 19-point lead in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals.
“It was like a team win,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s how you want to win it.”
It was almost how the Clippers lost it.
Sacramento rallied largely as a result of the Clippers’ committing some careless turnovers while the Kings made four of seven three-pointers in the fourth quarter. They had taken a 98-97 lead on Rudy Gay’s three-pointer before the Clippers’ J.J. Redick countered with his own three-pointer. Redick finished with 15 points.
Griffin scored 20 of his 33 points in the first half, wearing down a bit after having to play the entire third quarter with Jordan and Josh Smith in foul trouble. Paul finished with 18 points, 11 assists and five rebounds.
“This group has been together for some years, so they have a good understanding for one another,” Pierce said. “I’m trying to go in there and fit in if I’m going to play with that group down the stretch.”
Pierce physically overwhelmed his defender on his clutch jumper, something the Clippers hope to see regularly from the newcomer.
“That’s what happened when he cracked my finger too,” said Paul, who sustained a broken finger in practice while playing against Pierce.
Lance Stephenson had an immediate impact in his Clippers debut, swishing a three-pointer on his first shot, following with a 22-foot jumper and adding an assist to be involved in three of his team’s first four baskets.
Cousins finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds but added eight turnovers for the Kings, playing the final season opener in their 27-year-old arena. They will move into a $507-million multipurpose facility downtown starting in 2016.