What was shaping up as a drama-free affair for the Clippers produced some anxiety before they took the suspense out of Sunday’s game with the New Orleans Pelicans behind a dominating, career night from Montrezl Harrell.
Harrell used his force that has made him a dynamic reserve to tie his career high of 34 points and pull the Clippers to a 134-109 win. He capped his night with a double-double, his 12 rebounds one shy of a career best.
Harrell had set his standard with a 34-point, 13-rebound effort against the Milwaukee Bucks this month.
“Honestly, I had a lot on my mind coming into today’s game,” said Harrell, who worked his way through whatever issues he’s dealing with by missing just five of 18 shots.
“I just really wanted to go out here and leave it all out here on the floor and just keep putting the work in doing something I love to do. Being out here with a great group of guys, man, and just being able to just do what I need to do.”
Kawhi Leonard scored 26 points and Paul George 18, but they took a back seat to the stars off the bench.
When the Clippers started to wobble in the third quarter, their 62-37 lead having been cut to 82-76, Harrell stepped up and scored his team’s last 10 points in the quarter.
The Clippers took control again, opening a 100-87 lead after three quarters. The lead was never fewer than 11 points the rest of the way.
“Trez had a major night,” said the Clippers’ other super reserve, Lou Williams, who also was a factor with 19 points and four assists. The Clippers were plus-26 with him on the court, and plus-30 with Harrell.
“Once he’s going downhill, once he’s playing really aggressive and attacking the rim, he’s virtually unstoppable with guys that are his size and the footspeed that he has,” Williams continued. “I thought he had a lot to do with that tonight. He had a monster night.”
Harrell added 12 points in the fourth quarter, making sure the Clippers (12-5) won their fifth straight game. They pushed their record to 11-1 at Staples Center, the best start in franchise history at home.
“I think that people think that Trez is good only because of Lou,” coach Doc Rivers said. “And I think they are starting to see Trez is good, period. There’s nothing else after that. He’s just a good basketball player. He can score in the post. He can score on [isolation plays]. He can do it in a lot of different ways, and it’s been great to watch.
“Like each year, seems like he adds more and more to his game. He went left like five times today.”
The Pelicans tried to make the game interesting behind the play of forward Brandon Ingram, who played his first game at Staples Center since he was traded by the Lakers along with Lonzo Ball in the deal for Anthony Davis.
Ingram had 24 points and Ball, who received a mix of boos and cheers when he checked into the game in the first quarter, had nine off the bench.
But this game was about how Harrell was in command and was energized for a Clippers team that played its fourth game in seven nights.
“I’m just really out there having fun and just taking what the defense gives me,” Harrell said. “A couple of the moves I made tonight I made going left because down there towards their bench I heard a coach yelling, ‘Take away his right hand.’ So I felt like I got a step quicker on a couple of guys, so when I show that step to be like I’m going right, they got to play it honestly. Then I just attack back the other way and it was all downhill from there.”