Outside the double doors leading to the visitors’ locker room inside Toyota Center, a horde of Clippers coaches and staffers stood Friday night staring at sheets of paper still warm from the printer.
They were studying the box score from a 133-113 victory over the Houston Rockets with eyes wide, as if to confirm that what they had just witnessed had, in fact, taken place.
Against Houston’s cheesecloth defense, the Clippers produced by far their best offensive performance. The team that entered the night among the league’s bottom third in offensive efficiency ended it by shooting season highs of 54.4% and 52.2% from three-point range.
The Clippers’ bench, led by Montrezl Harrell’s career-high 30 points and Lou Williams’ 23, combined for 85 points, the most by the club since at least 1984-85 and the most by any NBA team’s reserves since Dec. 26, 2012.
“It was great,” coach Doc Rivers said.
Said Houston coach Mike D’Antoni: “Our defense was just awful.”
Despite the return of Chris Paul from a two-game suspension for fighting, Houston sputtered without injured star James Harden by shooting 38.8% and had no answer for the run that turned a tight game into a rout. The Clippers, who beat Houston last week while Paul was out, outscored the Rockets 17-0 during a 5-minute 4-second stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters to take a 24-point lead.
The rout was so one-sided it hardly mattered the Clippers (3-2) turned the ball over 15 times. They matched their season average for points with nine minutes to play and led by 28 by exploiting a defense that switched constantly and had “no continuity,” D’Antoni said.
“You can point at so many different guys,” Rivers said. “Tobias [Harris] in that stretch in the third quarter when they were making their run, makes two big threes. [Harrell] was phenomenal. Milos [Teodosic] was phenomenal. Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] came in and played well. Pat [Beverley], the whole team.
“It’s just who we are. We don’t have that one-guy team. We have a team and it’s fun to coach.”
L.A. shot a season-high 56.8% in the first half to lead by nine and Williams feasted against his old team one day before his 32nd birthday. After practicing three-pointers from 25 feet or longer during warmups, he sunk two from that range in the first half while scoring 19 points in 13 minutes. That tied for the most by any NBA reserve in a half this season.
“We were joking with Lou this morning at shootaround like, ‘Hey, Lou, we haven’t seen Lou yet,’” Rivers said. “I think maybe he took it personal or whatever but he was phenomenal. The whole team.”
The bench continued its tear after halftime. Teodosic scored eight points with seven rebounds and five assists in his season debut, including a football-style pass the length of the court that led to a transition layup. On the bench with foul trouble yet again, Beverley raised his arms to signal a touchdown.
Harrell collected offensive rebounds and turned them into second-chance dunks, but also went to the free-throw line 15 times and made all but one. Rivers had all but dared his team to be more aggressive after playing passively Tuesday in New Orleans and the Clippers finished with a season-high 38 free-throw attempts.
When Harrell checked out for good with 4:15 to play, the entire Clippers bench stood to bump fists and congratulate the former Rocket, who was traded with Williams and Beverley a year ago in the deal that sent Paul to Houston.
“Obviously Trez was drafted here and traded,” Williams said. “That creates confidence and I’m sure he wanted to come put on a show. He happened to have a huge night.”
At the court’s other end, Harden stared dead ahead on the Houston bench. The team that earned last year’s top seed in the Western Conference and took Golden State to seven games in the conference finals is 1-4.
“There’s no need for panic,” said Paul, who scored 12 points with eight assists and six rebounds, but the Rockets were outscored by 26 with him on the floor. “I don’t even think that word should be even be trying to creep in here.”