Mentally, the Clippers had to fight themselves just as much as an Orlando Magic opponent many consider to be one of the lesser teams in the NBA.
But with so much at stake for the Clippers, they were able to find their footing with a strong defensive effort in the fourth quarter that pushed them to a 113-105 win over the Magic on Saturday night at Staples Center in front of 16,561.
The Clippers held Orlando to 16 points and 28.6% shooting in the fourth.
Lou Williams struck again in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 25 points to lead five Clippers in double figures.
The Clippers had just come off an impressive victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night at Staples and really couldn’t afford a loss with the Western Conference race so tight and every game having so much meaning.
“Tonight was a struggle. You could just see it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “You come off the game last night. I just thought it was a mental struggle for us. I thought we hung in there long enough to just keep it close enough. I just thought it was a mental struggle for us tonight.”
The Clippers remained in eighth place in the West, but are only half a game behind the seventh-place San Antonio Spurs and one game behind the sixth-place Minnesota Timberwolves.
But it took the Clippers having to dig down to be in this spot.
Tobias Harris did his part, scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Milos Teodosic did his part with 15 points and seven assists.
“I can say that it’s always tough to motivate yourself after winning the Cleveland game and winning the way we won that. We were leading almost all 48 minutes,” Teodosic said.
“Today, to come and to play same way with the same motivation, it was tough for us. But in the end, we showed the character and we showed that we’ve become a really good team and I’m happy that we won tonight.”
The Clippers started the game as if they were intent on blowing out the Magic, opening a 12-2 lead.
But as the first half progressed, the Clippers didn’t maintain the same focus and their effort was lacking frequently.
By the end of the first 24 minutes, the Clippers trailed the Magic 58-56.
The Clippers defense in the second quarter was basically nonexistent, allowing the Magic to make 57.1% of its shots and score 31 points.
What made this so agonizing was that the Clippers had talked about playing the right way and not against any single opponent.
But a Magic team that has the worst record (20-47) in the Eastern Conference and third-worst in the NBA gave the Clippers all they could handle.
“People look at the record in the NBA and they just think, ‘Well, you’re going to win,’ ” Rivers said. “And that just doesn’t happen. Those are professional players. And you have to play well to win an NBA game. And we played just well enough.”