Lou Williams weaved to his left, then his right, and shaking free of the defense of Atlanta Hawks rookie De’Andre Hunter, dribbled until he saw a clear lane to the basket.
A few steps into the key painted the hue of a Georgia peach, the Clippers’ 6-foot-1, 33-year-old guard lifted off and slammed with his right hand his second dunk this season.
“Rare air for me at this point in my career,” Williams said.
Williams stared into the State Farm Arena crowd, to a section where friends and family had flocked from the Atlanta suburb where he starred in high school. Williams hoped the dunk would “kind of get me going” after a difficult night shooting.
Instead, during the seven minutes that remained Wednesday, the Clippers were brought back to Earth.
The Clippers lost a 21-point lead and had a winning streak end at four games in the process of a 102-95 defeat to Atlanta.
The Hawks, the Eastern Conference’s last-place team, played without leading scorer Trae Young, who is nursing an injury, and shot only 35% from the field. Still, they outscored the Clippers 61-35 in the second half.
The Clippers also had notable absences, with Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley sitting out. George has not played since Jan. 5 because of a strained right hamstring. Beverley injured his groin Tuesday night in Dallas. Leonard has not played on consecutive nights since 2017.
But the Clippers’ bigger misses were felt at the free-throw line, where they misfired 14 times, and at the third-quarter start, when they blew defensive assignments from the first play, giving up a three-point basket to Kevin Huerter. Instead of using the opening minutes to put the Hawks away, the Clippers watched the Hawks go on a 12-1 run.
“We are all pros so whatever lineup is out there, we have to go out there and play and execute,” said forward Maurice Harkless, who had six points, five rebounds and four turnovers in 27 minutes. “We can’t use that as an excuse. Guys been in and out of the lineup all year so it’s not an excuse anymore. We just made some mistakes tonight that we can’t make.”
Williams finished with 18 points and seven assists. He made six of his 19 shots and none of his seven three-point tries; the Clippers shot 19% on three-pointattempts. He was one of several in a downbeat postgame locker room to zero in on the missed opportunity to start the third quarter.
“Even though you got the lead you trying to play catchup, and you try to get that energy back,” he said. “I thought they were on an upswing, we were on a downswing.”
Center Montrezl Harrell scored 30 points, the league-leading fourth time this season he has scored 30 points or more off the bench.
Still, Harrell lamented his seven missed free throws.
“There’s a lot of stuff we wish we could take back,” Harrell said. “I definitely wish I could get a chance to go back on the line again, but we don’t have those chances.
“We got real lackadaisical, we took bad shots, all of us, including myself, and like I said we just relied on thinking we were going to coast our way through the game where they were going to lay down. And we should have known that’s not the type of team that they are.”
Atlanta had 23 offensive rebounds, nine by center John Collins, who finished with 16 rebounds and 33 points. Coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t consider putting 7-foot center Ivica Zubac in the game to guard Collins because the Clippers needed Harrell’s scoring. Rivers also wasn’t pleased with the lineup that included Zubac and couldn’t stop the Hawks’ run to start the third quarter.
“I thought the last three minutes of the second quarter you can see us kind of relaxing, not playing the same way, and then the first five minutes of the third quarter we missed assignment after assignment, we missed guys open, we stopped moving the ball,” Rivers said. “Once it was a 10-point game you knew, oh boy, this is going to be a tough night.”
George went through a pregame shooting routine, making 11 of 12 three-point shots at one point, and Rivers said the forward is “close” to returning without offering specifics other than George played two on two Tuesday in Dallas.
“We’re just letting him go through the process,” Rivers said. “That’s something you don’t want to rush. Hamstrings are just a tricky thing and you don’t want to take any chances and we will error on the cautious side, for sure.”