Clippers coach Doc Rivers told his players that at some point their defense would have to catch up to their prolific offense on Saturday afternoon against the high-scoring New Orleans Pelicans.
So during a game in which Kawhi Leonard continued his torrid five-game pace with a masterful 39-point performance and Lou Williams provided the cold-blooded, game-clinching three-pointer to go along with his 32-point effort off the bench, the Clippers found their defense in the decisive fourth quarter.
The Clippers pulled out a 133-130 win when they held the Pelicans to 20 points in the final quarter before 17,959 fans at Smoothie King Center.
After the game, Rivers referenced how his team had given up 35 points in the first quarter, 45 in the second and 30 in the third. The Pelicans had made 58.5% of their shots while scoring 110 points.
“And then a 20-point quarter,” Rivers said. “That’s why we won the game.”
The Clippers, who played without injured starters Paul George and Maurice Harkless, were suffocating on defense in the fourth, holding the Pelicans to 38.1% shooting, 20% from three-point range.
The Clippers finished the game with Leonard forcing J.J. Redick to miss a potential game-tying three-pointer as time expired.
“Doc just wanted us to grind out the win,” Leonard said. “He kept telling us we just got to find a way to win, and obviously everybody wanted to play better defense.”
Leonard has scored 30-plus points in five consecutive games, the longest such feat in franchise history since World B. Free had an 11-game streak from Jan. 2 to Jan. 23, 1980.
Leonard has scored 180 points in the last five games, the most points by a Clippers player in a five-game stretch since Free had 184 points from Dec. 14 to Dec. 23, 1979.
Leonard also had six rebounds, six assists and five steals, the first Clippers player to accomplish that feat since Ron Harper on March 13, 1994.
“Making shots. It’s simple as that. Making shots,” Leonard said about his offensive outburst. “My teammates are being more aggressive, being assertive and that’s it. Once you score points, you’re making shots.”
Williams was in position to deliver in the clutch after Patrick Beverley hustled for an offensive rebound of a Leonard miss.
Once he got the ball, Williams pulled up from the left wing and drilled a three-pointer with 31.6 seconds remaining to give the Clippers a six-point lead.
He was reminded that his last-second dagger last season here against the Pelicans was in the same spot.
“I realized that after the game,” Williams said, smiling. “I guess I like that spot, the same spot. Last year they counted it as a two, though, so I was able to get my foot behind the line this time.”
Montrezl Harrell had to play through pain after getting kneed in the hip during the third quarter.
He retreated to the locker room in the third, but returned to play in the fourth.
“I’m solid, dog. I managed,” said Harrell, who had 24 points on nine-for-11 shooting from the field. “I went back out there and still was able to play and finish the game off for my teammates. That’s all that really matters.”
The hope for the Clippers is that George, who missed his fifth consecutive game because of a strained hamstring, gets healthy enough to join them on the rest of their five-game trip, which includes stops in Dallas, Atlanta and Miami before concluding Jan. 26 in Orlando. Harkless is nursing a sore lower back and is day to day.
“He’s coming along,” Rivers said of George. “Hopefully at some point he’ll join us on the trip, but right now we just felt it’d be better for him to stay back and just keep getting treatment.”