It began as a game to forget.
It ended as a victory the Clippers will savor and the record books will remember.
The largest comeback in Clippers regular-season history ended their two-game losing streak and began their longest road trip this season with momentum following a 111-101 victory against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena.
The Clippers trailed by as many as 25 points and were down 23 when Detroit’s Reggie Jackson made a three-pointer with 4:59 remaining in the third quarter. From then on, they outscored Detroit 51-18, sparked by the defense of Mike Scott, the offense of Lou Williams, and a toughness that kept the Clippers from following two dispiriting losses with a dud of a third.
Williams scored a season-high 39 points, 18 of which came in the fourth — four more than the Pistons in the quarter.
“I don’t think we played a great brand of basketball our first two quarters — who knows what we can blame it on,” Williams said. “The reality is it happened. Had to go fight and go get one.”
The Clippers trailed 11-1 and 32-13 in the first quarter, and coach Doc Rivers called three timeouts within the first six minutes.
“We were dead,” Rivers said.
Point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the only starter to score a field goal in the first half. Center Marcin Gortat was quickly benched, Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley were out of rhythm offensively, and leading scorer Tobias Harris was nursing a right shoulder he’d injured in Thursday’s overtime loss against the Lakers. He reaggravated the injury during warmups Saturday.
Former Clipper Blake Griffin, who finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds, had 17 points by halftime and appeared primed for an encore of his 44-point performance during the teams’ first meeting this season. When the Clippers elected not to double-team Griffin, he backed down defenders in the post. When the Clippers sent help, his passes found open shooters. The Pistons, dead last in three-point accuracy, made 55% of their attempts from behind the arc in the first half.
Eventually their shooting regressed to the mean — they finished 40.5% from deep — and the Clippers’ second-half starting lineup, which included Williams for Beverley and Boban Marjanovic for Gortat, found traction.
With Clippers owner Steve Ballmer watching from a courtside seat, the Clippers scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter. It was part of a larger 23-4 run.
“When you’re down big like that you try to get it to 12 and try to get it to eight at a certain point, try to get it to six and give yourself an opportunity to win,” Williams said. “Like clockwork, we were hitting all of those."
A three-pointer by Scott tied the score 89-89 nearly four minutes into the final quarter. Scott finished with 15 points, his first time scoring in double digits since Nov. 19. He played 20 minutes, his most since Dec. 22, and Rivers felt his physicality on defense helped limit Griffin in the second half. Scott had endured a shooting slump in the weeks before making five of his six shots and all three of his three-pointers against the Pistons (22-29).
“I felt real good, man,” Scott said. “Shots I was normally missing, they just dropped today.”
When a layup by Williams with 6:18 left pushed the Clippers (29-24) ahead 93-91, it was their first lead since the game was one minute old.
“It was the little things that always come back to haunt us,” Griffin said.
Jackson scored 29 points to lead Detroit. Gilgeous-Alexander had 14 points and has scored in double figures in a career-high four consecutive games. Harris, who began 0 for 8 from the field and had seven points, said his shoulder injury left him unable to extend his shooting elbow.
“We’ll see how it is” Sunday in Toronto, he said.
The third matchup between Griffin and his former team since his trade one year ago carried none of the same outside fanfare of the first two, but after his three-pointer in front of the Clippers’ bench gave the Pistons an 80-60 lead midway through the third quarter, he shot an extended glance at the sideline.
He looked the Clippers’ direction after the final buzzer, too, saying hello to a strength coach and team security official. The rest of the Clippers were stomping off the court by that point, slapping hands and smiling. Rivers pumped both fists.
As Williams and Beverley raced arm in arm through the tunnel to the locker room after the game, a fan leaned over the railing and yelled, “Williams, you killed us tonight!” The pair kept going, into a tunnel of waiting coaches.