Walking the halls of Barclays Center before tipoff Saturday, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he’s learned never to count out a team too early.
“There’s games you walk in like, ‘Oh we ... suck tonight,’” he said, “and all the sudden the fourth quarter you go on a 20-0 run and you win the game.”
Over the course of the next two hours and nine minutes, the Clippers proved their coach’s words eerily prescient.
In a performance that left even their coach baffled, the Clippers extended their league-leading winning streak to four games despite trailing for the first 40 minutes by producing another overwhelming finish in a 127-119 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
Multiple players, coaches and executives shook their heads and smiled afterward as if to acknowledge they had no business being in the game as late as midway through the third quarter. Nets center Jarrett Allen, en route to a career-high 22 points, found easy basket after easy basket at the rim and Brooklyn’s drive-and-kick strategy found one open shooter after another. Then a 9-0 Clippers run, by a patchwork lineup of reserves that Rivers played only because he was so desperate to find a spark, changed the game’s course.
“Nothing made any sense, honestly,” Rivers said. “We had to throw every logical thing out and just try to find five guys that can make a run.”
The league’s highest-scoring bench had 52 points, led by 16 points each by Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, who added 10 rebounds. Sindarius Thornwell, Tyrone Wallace and Mike Scott were as impactful as Danilo Gallinari (28 points) and Tobias Harris (27 points).
“Their bench did a phenomenal job,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Harrell and Lou, obviously those guys came in and changed the game.”
“No one really had their head down,” guard Patrick Beverley said. “The edge was there, we just kept with it.”
The Nets’ hot shooting eventually cooled to 45.5% and they were outscored 48-28 during the final 16 minutes.
“We knew at some point they had to stop shooting the way they were shooting the whole game,” center Marcin Gortat said. “We didn’t quit, we didn’t fall apart, we took a few punches in the game and we stood up. We are still standing.”
The Nets (7-10) were playing their second game in as many days and were without star Caris LeVert, who suffered a dislocated foot this week, yet the Clippers (10-5) looked far worse for wear after tipoff. When they landed Friday in New Jersey, snow from the previous day’s storm kept the team from reaching their Manhattan hotel for nearly two hours. By that point it was the evening and a formal shootaround was ruled out, with a walk-through in a hotel ballroom taking its place. They then didn’t get on the court Saturday morning, either, as Rivers held to his long-standing custom of not working his team out after a cross-country flight.
Players are fresher because of it, but can also be unprepared.
“I just hope that we’re ready, man,” injured guard Avery Bradley said before tipoff.
They were not, until reserves with fresh legs rescued the winning streak. Williams entered the game having made all nine of his free throws this season in the last five minutes of games within five points and he remained clutch Saturday, making all five from the line in the fourth quarter.
“If we didn’t have the legs tonight,” Rivers said, “we wouldn’t have won the game.”