When the NBA schedule is released each summer, veterans across the league scan it to find so-called schedule losses.
The ingredients are always the same. One team comes in tired, either on the second night of back-to-back games or the tail end of a long road trip. The other hasn’t played in several nights. The gulf in rest doesn’t always lead to a win for the fresher team but opponents know it’s always a trap.
Behind a fast start and a season-high 56.2% shooting, the Clippers sidestepped such an upset against a Sacramento team in turmoil, beating the Kings 133-121 at Golden 1 Center. An 18-point first-half lead by Los Angeles was trimmed to three at halftime and the Kings stayed within single digits midway through the fourth quarter.
But six Clippers scored in double figures and Tobias Harris (28 points), Danilo Gallinari (16 points) and Montrezl Harrell (24 points) took turns answering every time the Kings surged in the second half.
“We just felt like it’s one of those games where a lot of teams fold,” coach Doc Rivers said. “Like, ‘Man, we’ve played well, we played last night, we give up.’ But we didn’t. Every time they made a run either Tobias or Gal or Trez made a big play. That’s the type of team we have. That’s why we’re so good.”
The Clippers (15-6) kicked off a four-game trip with their fourth consecutive victory and remain in first place in the Western Conference standings.
The Kings (10-11) were led by Bogdan Bogdanovic’s 26 points off the bench but couldn’t overcome their disastrous start.
The Clippers scored 42 first-quarter points, a team high for any quarter this season. Harris scored seven of his team’s first nine points and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 11 points. In all, the Clippers shot a blistering 68% and led by 16 points entering the second quarter.
The Kings may have had fresh legs but they also were dealing with internal dysfunction. Coach Dave Joerger reportedly asked assistant general manager Brandon Williams to leave a morning shootaround in part because he believed Williams had leaked a story that Joerger’s job was in danger, and that Williams wanted to take over the head-coaching role himself.
Joerger avoided a direct answer when asked about his relationship with Williams before the game, instead saying the team was looking forward to playing the Clippers.
Whatever ailed the Kings leading up to, and during, the first quarter quickly faded. They outscored the Clippers by 13 in the second quarter to trail 71-68 at halftime. Sacramento’s comeback spoiled Avery Bradley’s best offensive start to a game this season. He scored 16 points and assisted on two baskets in 16 first-half minutes.
Bradley finished with 16 points, his most since Jan. 17 of last season, when he was still with the Detroit Pistons. Bradley was also superb defensively, holding Kings leading scorer Buddy Hield to 10 points, eight below his season average, and later guarded Bogdanovic.
“We got him some more motion today and we’re just going to keep adding that to the offense,” Rivers said of Bradley. “It’s just going to take time. You could see his confidence grew with each shot. Like I said, it’s not like he forgot how [to score].”
The Kings covered nearly every seat before tipoff with a purple towel and fans whipped them around their head during the comeback while others rattled cow bells. The arena quickly fell quiet during a two-possession stretch in the fourth quarter.
With the Clippers leading by seven with five minutes remaining, Gallinari pump faked a three-pointer from the wing and bounced an entry pass into Harrell, who scored a contested layup and made a free throw after being fouled. Within seconds, Gilgeous-Alexander forced a steal at halfcourt on Bogdanovic, which Harris picked up and lobbed to the rim for a leaping Harrell. He banked the alley-oop layup off the glass, over the arms of Willie Cauley-Stein, while falling to the court and was fouled again.
The lead was 13, and it was only a matter of time before the Clippers secured their ninth victory in their last 10 games.
“We played on back-to-back nights and they’d been sitting here three days, we knew this was going to be a hard game,” Rivers said.
“I thought the start we had gave us a cushion. That allowed us in some ways to get some rest during the game, because [the Kings] don’t stop.”