The game was supposed to be a challenging one for the Clippers in the sense that the New York Knicks are an NBA team. But the Knicks are reeling, entering Friday having lost 10 of 11 games and star Kristaps Porzingis to a season-ending injury.
So the Clippers might not have expected to find themselves being pushed in the first half. Still, they pushed back with a powerful third quarter that propelled them to a 128-105 win over the Knicks before 17,190 at Staples Center.
It was the impressive work of Austin Rivers and DeAndre Jordan and a committed defense in the third quarter that allowed the Clippers to turn a three-point deficit at the half into a 14-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
“There was just no defense,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Then in the second half, I thought we played really hard defensively. The grit part about our team is when we get stops, then we start running. And when we start running, it puts a lot of pressure on [teams].”
Austin Rivers was blistering in the third, scoring 14 of his 19 points.
He missed just one of his five shots and none of his four three-pointers in the third.
“I just felt like in the first half I didn’t bring energy,” said Rivers, who was seven-for-13 from the field for the game, five-for-seven from three-point range.
“We were down three at halftime. I just tried to bring energy. I thought I came out kind of lethargic in the first half.”
Jordan was simply a force, scoring 19 points, collecting 20 rebounds, blocking two shots and handing out three assists.
“I need to, like I said, come out with more intensity,” said Jordan, who was nine-for-11 from the field. “For me, that’s the player that I am. I play with a lot of emotion.
“I feel like I was that today and I’ve got to be more for our team.”
With super reserves Lou Williams (21 points, eight assists) and Montrezl Harrell (19 points) doing their thing, the ninth-seeded Clippers stayed just a half-game behind the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference.
The Knicks were playing without Porzingis, who is out for the season because of a left Achilles tendon injury. But they went right at the Clippers in the first half.
The Clippers showed little resistance on defense in the first half, allowing the Knicks to make 51% of their shots, 50% (seven-for-14) of their three-pointers.
But everything changed for the Clippers in the third quarter, starting with a better defensive effort.
The Clippers outscored the Knicks 35-18 in the third.
That was a byproduct of the Clippers digging down on defense, limiting the Knicks to 33.3% shooting in the third, 16.7% (one-for-six) from three-point range.
On the flip side, the Clippers sizzled in the third. They shot 63.2% from the field, 62.5% from three-point range.
It was largest home win over the Knicks in history and tied the franchise record (with the Buffalo Braves in 1976) for the largest win over New York.
“I think we understand the moment right now,” Austin Rivers said.
“We can’t drop any games like this. The must-wins you got to win. No disrespect to New York. They play hard. But these are games that we got to take if we’re going to make this playoff push.”