Strong finish lifts the Clippers to a win over Raptors
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Doc Rivers thought maybe the Clippers had a chance. They had talent, he thought. They could surprise people.
Injuries threatened all of that, but Monday, at least for one night, they found a new hope.
On the same night he was honored with a “Star Wars”-themed bobblehead, returning guard Milos Teodosic hit a clutch three-point shot in the final minute of the Clippers’ 96-91 win against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center.
It’s the team’s second consecutive victory, both against probable Eastern Conference playoff teams.
“The injuries happen,” Rivers said before the win, “and you go into survival mode.”
Survival mode for this team is drastically different for the Clippers than it has been in the past when Blake Griffin or Chris Paul was sidelined because of an injury. Those teams, even minus a star, still had more talent than most of their opponents.
This version of the Clippers, minus Griffin and starting guard Patrick Beverly and again without Danilo Gallinari after another glute injury, has to win in different ways. It has to do it with effort and force.
“That’s got to be one of our talents right now,” Rivers said. “… We scrapped. We played hard. … That’s who we have to be right now.”
Monday, the Clippers responded to an early push from the Raptors, who were playing on a second consecutive night after winning Sunday at Sacramento.
The Raptors, one of the NBA’s top scoring teams, scored 30 points in the first quarter before the Clippers’ defense tightened.
Toronto wound up making only 40% of its shots, 24.1% from three-point range, and was limited to 61 points in the last three quarters.
“We were able to make them shoot tough shots,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. “And, ultimately, we had to get stops to win the game. That’s what we did.”
The Clippers trailed by seven points midway through the fourth quarter before going on a 22-10 run to close the game.
They took the lead for only the second time in the game when Austin Rivers made a driving layup. And while the offense couldn’t score for the next two minutes, the defense shut out the Raptors to keep the two-point edge.
Jordan extended the lead on a tip-in, but a layup and a free throw by Kyle Lowry made it seem like Toronto might escape with a win.
But Teodosic, back in the lineup after sitting out 22 games because of a plantar fascia injury in his left foot, stepped in and hit the big three-pointer that helped seal the win.
“He’s gutty,” Doc Rivers said.
The Clippers even escaped the game without a serious injury — progress considering the kind of season they’ve had — though it wasn’t without suspense.
Montrezl Harrell, who scored a season-high 17 points, landed awkwardly after blocking a shot during the fourth quarter, forcing Rivers to call a timeout and hope for the best.
And the Clippers, for a change, got lucky. Harrell stayed in the game.
“We got a break,” Doc Rivers said. “I called him ‘Lazarus.’ He rose from the dead.”
The Clippers now leave on a four-game trip as they continue trying to resurrect their season, and they know they’ll be short-handed.
Monday, despite being less talented, the Clippers played harder and more balanced, with six players scoring at least 14 points.
“That’s the way we’ve got to play,” forward Sam Dekker said. “Doc said before the game, ‘We’ve been dealt a [crummy] hand with injuries.’ Every night, we feel like we have a new starting lineup, a new injury, a new this or that. But he said to stay resilient and keep working hard. And, good things will happen.”
Good things happening? They at least can hope.
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