Slow starts are nothing new for the Clippers, but even when everything else has gone wrong, they’ve always been able to trust Tobias Harris to carry them.
Sunday afternoon, they didn’t even have that.
Harris, who entered Sunday averaging 7.5 points in first quarters to rank seventh in the NBA, missed his first six shots and was scoreless in the opening quarter against the Orlando Magic at Staples Center in a woeful start that mirrored that of his team.
At some point in the first half, he said he sought the help of a higher power to get him on track.
“I pray to God and ask him to help me through and find different ways to get going,” he said. “It’s funny but I’m serious.”
Whatever he did, it worked.
Harris scored 10 points in the second quarter and finished with a team-high 28 for the Clippers, who outscored the Magic by 12 in the second half during their 106-96 victory.
“It was definitely a tough start for us, myself included, but one thing my teammates kept telling me was ‘keep getting to your spots, your shots are going to fall,’” said Harris, who added nine rebounds and only one turnover in 35 minutes. “Get downhill and create some plays. That’s what we were able to do.”
“We came in ready to play, just nothing was falling,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought it did spill over on the other end, but once we got our legs and started making shots, we started defending better.”
The Clippers (23-16) had scored only 20 points in the first 15 minutes of the game and trailed by 15 early in the second quarter when reserve Patrick Beverley made a 28-foot three-pointer to end a 7-0 Magic run. The Clippers didn’t score again for two minutes but their rally had begun — and it was keyed by Harris.
He was fouled on a drive and shot his first free throws with 7:12 remaining in the first half and made both to score his first points. In the next three minutes he scored on a pair of layups, a pull-up jump shot and a floater in the lane.
“I usually like to go into games to determine how the defense is playing and I usually use my midrange to open up my drives,” Harris said. “Tonight it was kind of the opposite where I had to get to the drives to open it up more for me and get higher percentage shots.”
When Harris assisted on Danilo Gallinari’s first made three-pointer with 3:34 to play in the first half, the Clippers had trimmed their deficit from 15 points to one. They trailed by two at halftime only because Orlando (17-22) endured similar offensive struggles, making only four of their 15 three-pointers in the first half.
The Clippers took their first lead two minutes into the second half on layup by center Marcin Gortat — eliciting boisterous applause on “Polish heritage day” for the Polish center — and were soon up 10.
Orlando tied the score at 72 with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter but never took back the lead. The Clippers made four of their next five shots to begin their clinching run.
The loss spoiled a 16-point, 24-rebound, eight-assist performance from Orlando forward Nikola Vucevic. Aaron Gordon added a team-high 17 points.
Clippers reserve Lou Williams scored 17 points off the bench for Los Angeles and rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, stuck in a slump for several weeks, scored 13 points and turned the ball over once in 23 minutes.
“I got on him in the beginning of the game because he got close to the basket — and [D.J.] Augustin is a good defender, but he’s undersized and Shai didn’t look at the basket,” Rivers said. “Then from that point on I thought he got aggressive.”
The game was in hand enough in the final two minutes for Rivers to play G League call-up Johnathan Motley, his second appearance in an NBA game this season. He scored his first basket with 55 seconds remaining and added another layup with 30 seconds remaining.