It’s not a big secret.
The first rule of defending Lou Williams, since he entered the NBA in 2005, is to not allow him to drive to his left.
“That’s easier said than done,” New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
With 6.4 seconds to play Monday night at the Smoothie King Center, the Clippers nursing a one-point lead, Williams proved Gentry right by drilling a long two-point shot in front of Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday after dribbling to his left.
The Clippers’ 129-126 victory wasn’t complete until Tobias Harris made two key free throws and New Orleans’ Darius Miller missed a long three-point shot at the buzzer, but Williams’ shot helped them escape.
A reserve that Gentry before the game called “as good a closer as there is in the game,” Williams delivered in the clutch as if on cue.
“I like my chances going left,” he said. “One dribble left, it’s bread and butter.”
Williams scored 20 points to go with six assists and registered the highest plus/minus of the game at plus-17, helping the Clippers hold on as their 18-point third-quarter lead slowly crumbled.
Harris scored a team-high 27 points and Danilo Gallinari scored 24. Former Laker Julius Randle scored a career-high 37 points for the Pelicans but fouled out with four minutes remaining and the combination of Holiday (a season-high 32 points) and Anthony Davis (23, with 13 rebounds) wasn’t quite enough for the Pelicans, who led by four points in the fourth quarter.
“I thought the ball moved better tonight,” said Rivers, whose team assisted on 29 of its 49 field goals. “I thought we had good shots last night we missed. Tonight we had great shots and we made them.
“When we lost that lead you could just kind of feel it. You don’t know if you’re going to win or make shots but man, we made great defensive plays down the stretch and then made the right shots.”
The Clippers made 65.2% of their shots in the first half en route to a 12-point lead and 77 points, the third-most scored by the franchise in a first half since 2002. It was the second-most points given up in a first half in Pelicans history. It certainly didn’t help that the Pelicans’ Davis, a perennial All-Star guarded primarily by Gallinari, was called for three first-half fouls.
The Pelicans didn’t discover a miracle defensive cure at halftime, but they also didn’t go away after trailing 90-72 with 8:41 to play in the third quarter.
With four minutes to play in the third, Randle’s quick turnaround jumper off an assist from Davis gave him a career high in points while cutting the Clippers’ lead to three.
The Clippers hit the 100-point mark late in the quarter and entered the fourth quarter after making 61.5% of their shots. Yet they lost the lead and trailed by four points with 4:39 to play t after Davis finished a lob from Holiday off the glass that capped a 47-25 run.
The Clippers led by two points with 31 seconds left but Montrezl Harrell missed two free throws, continuing his inconsistency at the foul line in a season where he has otherwise played brilliantly. He finished with 14 points, missing five of nine free throws.
That was all the space Williams needed.
Williams had endured a rough five-game stretch before Monday, making only 35% of his shots, but he was going to “shoot the ball regardless” in the final seconds.
“When you’re a scorer,” he said, “you’re going to have stretches where it’s just not going for you. You’re going to have stretches where you’re just lights out. But you can’t never lose confidence. You’ve just got to play the game, take chances.”