The Clippers trailed by more than 20 points, again.
They rallied, again.
This time, though, they didn’t win again.
Road-weary during the final game of a six-game trip, the Clippers rallied from 23 points down Monday night at only to lose to the Minnesota Timberwolves 130-120 at Target Center. What could have been their fourth victory on the trip after trailing by at least 20 points instead was a defeat riddled with mistakes.
It spoiled a 45-point performance by Clippers guard Lou Williams, the most points scored by a reserve since April 13, 2009, when J.R. Smith of the Denver Nuggets scored the same number, and the most ever scored by a reserve against the Timberwolves.
“It’s hard to kind of digest that when you lose a game but grand scheme of things, career-wise, it’s pretty cool,” Williams said. “We probably just ran out of gas tonight. I just don’t think we had it.”
Minnesota (26-30) scored 74 points in the paint and 33 points off 21 turnovers by the Clippers (31-27). Those empty possessions allowed the Timberwolves, who grabbed twice as many offensive rebounds, to attempt 18 more shots than the Clippers.
“We were awful defensively,” coach Doc Rivers said. “The turnovers are one thing. You can’t do that. The offensive rebounds, you can’t do that. Even through that I thought we still should have won the game but the defensive mistakes were so great that we just couldn’t recover.
“We really didn’t deserve to win tonight.”
It was the second-highest scoring output of Williams’ 14-year career and helped the Clippers reserve corps to a franchise-record 89 points — the most by any group of reserves since Dec. 1, 1982, when the Kansas City Kings scored 90, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The flip side, of course, was that the Clippers starters scored only 31 points.
Williams scored 34 points after halftime, an arena record for a half, and 16 during the fourth quarter. Trailing 99-91 after the third quarter, the Clippers twice trimmed their deficit to four points, once on a layup by Williams with 6:48 to play and again on a teardrop floater by Williams with 5:25 left.
“Offensively, he’s one of the best players in the league,” center Ivica Zubac said. “Amazing.”
But the Clippers missed their next four shots and were outscored 11-5 the rest of the way.
In a duel matching two leading contenders for the NBA’s sixth man of the year award, i Minnesota’s Derrick Rose countered Williams by scoring 22 points. Center Karl-Anthony Towns scored a team-high 24 points. The Clippers might have guarded him with forward Danilo Gallinari, who has often guarded centers, but Rivers didn’t feel comfortable with the assignment only three games after Gallinari returned from a lengthy absence because of back spasms.
“We had to go the other route,” Rivers said, “and it probably hurt us.”
Zubac guarded Towns and finished a with a plus/minus of minus-35, worst among the Clippers.
“It probably started with me,” Zubac said when asked about defensive mistakes. “I wasn’t good on the pick-and-roll defense. I was too low and Derrick Rose got to the rim easy and made some tough shots around the rim. They got back into the game and that’s how it started.”
Reserve Sindarius Thornwell sang the chorus to Diddy’s “Coming Home” in the locker room afterward, an appropriate choice given the 12 days the Clippers had spent together since leaving Los Angeles. Along the way they said goodbye to six teammates who were either traded or waived and met five new teammates at the trade deadline.
“Going into the trip I think we just wanted to be .500 and up,” Williams said. “We never really discussed a number on it so 3-3, considering a trade halfway through it, trying to fit guys in, I’ll take it.”