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Clippers hope lessons were learned during massive meltdown against Sacramento

Clippers' Blake Griffin, left, pulls in a pass in front of Sacramento's Anthony Tolliver on March 26.
(Danny Moloshok / AP)

Blake Griffin called Sunday’s fourth-quarter collapse, which saw the Clippers blow an 18-point lead with five minutes left and lose to Sacramento, “a good lesson for us,” the the power forward adding that “if we don’t use it as motivation or something to learn from, then we have bigger problems.”

The takeaway for Coach Doc Rivers: When leading by double digits late in an important game, it’s best to keep your foot on the gas pedal instead of switching on the cruise control.

“I wanted to see if our bench could take us home, because I really did not want to put our [starters] back in at all,” Rivers said in the wake of the 98-97 defeat. “And at the end of the day, it may have cost us the game with that decision.”

Rivers rested his starters for the entire fourth quarter in wins over the New York Knicks and Lakers on consecutive days last week, though the strategy nearly backfired against the Knicks, who trimmed a 25-point deficit to eight with 1½ minutes left.

With the Clippers playing the second game of a back-to-back on Sunday and closing a grueling stretch in which they played eight games in 12 days, Rivers hoped to do the same against the Kings.

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But when Sacramento cut the lead to 11, Rivers put Griffin and point guard Chris Paul back in, and center DeAndre Jordan and guard Austin Rivers soon followed.

The starters couldn’t stop the bleeding. The Kings closed with a 22-3 run, the Clippers missing their final nine shots and blowing a chance to move into a fourth-place tie with Utah in the Western Conference.

How rare was the meltdown? According to ESPN, entering Sunday, NBA teams were 6,746-1 over the past 20 seasons when leading by at least 18 points in the final five minutes. The Clippers hope to rebound when they play the Washington Wizards in Staples Center on Wednesday night.

“Mentally, that’s really hard,” Rivers said of the challenge his starters faced in returning to the floor on Sunday. “It’s easy to ask guys to stay ready, but they’re looking at that lead thinking they’re not going back in. So I will take far more blame than them on that. Maybe I should have put the guys in earlier to secure the game.”

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

@MikeDiGiovanna


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