The momentum clearly was on the Clippers’ side early on, their ball movement crisp as they built a 16-point lead in the first quarter, their focus intense as they increased the lead to 25 in the second quarter.
But all that momentum began to shift away from the Clippers, making them uncomfortable as the Sacramento Kings closed to within five in the fourth quarter.
Eventually the Clippers stood firm, grabbing momentum back by sharing the ball game and pulling away for a 122-108 victory Sunday afternoon before 19,068 at Staples Center.
“I’m just never comfortable anytime and especially against that team, because they score in bunches,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “And you knew they were coming back at some point.”
When the Clippers’ lead was cut to 91-84 on a Willie Cauley-Stein breakaway dunk, Rivers called a timeout to regroup with 10 minutes and 36 seconds left.
“We was beating them the whole game. We got to expect the run to come,” said guard Patrick Beverley, who nearly produced a triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. “We sustained it, we kept our poise and we continued to play basketball.”
The formula was that simple. They began to share the ball again and play defense a little harder.
Montrezl Harrell was his normal energetic self, leading the team with 25 points to go with seven rebounds. Tobias Harris played his typical all-around game, delivering 18 points, six rebounds and three assists. Lou Williams did his part, handing out a team-high 10 assists to go with 12 points. Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was solid, scoring 17 points and getting five assists.
“We know they’re a team that makes runs,” Harris said. “We just [had] to keep the pressure on them and keep on playing hard. That was the biggest thing for us. … We used our defense to get ourselves to keep that cushion.”
Williams made two free throws for a seven-point lead. After Bogdan Bogdanovic scored for the Kings, Harris made a three-pointer off an assist from Avery Bradley (12 points, six rebounds, six assists) for an eight-point lead.
The Kings got to within six, but a scoop shot by Beverley and a three from Bradley off an assist from Harris gave the Clippers an 11-point lead they would not relinquish.
“Big shots, timely stops,” Rivers said. “In the first half, it was our defense. I thought our defense was terrific and the second half I actually thought we made some timely shots. I didn’t think we played great in the second half, but we did enough to win.”
His team had 35 assists on 42 field goals. That went a long way toward the Clippers shooting 47.7% from the field and 37.9% from three-point range.
“Whenever we do it, it’s good and it was good all night,” Rivers said of sharing the ball. “That’s who we have to be.”
The Clippers improved to 28-22 and are holding firm to a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.