Nicolas Batum’s incredible fourth quarter caps huge game as Clippers hold off Pacers
The abyss beckoned, the Clippers’ grasp slowly slipping, the game sinking into the void where wins go to die.
It seemed impossible they could lose this game. They were on their way to their highest point total of the season. The oft-passive Nicolas Batum had just delivered arguably the most improbable 30-point half in NBA history, bewildering the crowd at Crypto.com Arena with a flurry of threes.
Yet, there the Indiana Pacers were, somehow withstanding the Clippers’ furious haymakers to pull to within three points with 31 seconds to play. One wrong move, and Los Angeles was looking at its third straight loss. It would be an upsetting precursor to a grueling eight-game road trip.
But with one late dunk, a resounding two-handed jam, the steadfast Reggie Jackson ensured there would be only good vibrations heading into the trip — capping a 139-133 win that broke a string of tough offensive showings.
“It was fun,” Batum said. “I mean, we had fun.”
It was a play coach Tyronn Lue called a “safe.” The Clippers knew, ahead by three with so little time left, that the Pacers were going to try to trap before they fouled. So rather than catch a pass and wait, Jackson curled hard off a screen from Marcus Morris Sr.
It seemed to catch Indiana off guard, and after securing the inbound pass from Batum, Jackson exploded through wide-open space for the jam. It gave him his 21st and 22nd points of the night on his way to 26.
The Clippers guard hadn’t been able to get much going offensively of late, shooting less than 40% in each of his last seven games while missing open looks. He was getting mad at himself, Lue said. But on Monday, hints of the traditional Jackson flair popped up everywhere — a pullup after waving off everyone to take Pacers rookie Duane Washington Jr. one-on-one, a burst of speed for a fourth-quarter transition dunk.
“You don’t need to say anything to Reggie … he’s in his own world,” Batum said. “Crowd’s going to cheer Reggie anyway.”
The Clippers had scored 22, 15 and 16 points in their last three first quarters; it was only natural that soon they would detonate.
It happened against the Pacers. Amir Coffey — looking more confident with each game — made three threes in the opening quarter as the Clippers dropped 40 points. Coffey finished with 16 points and a team-high seven assists.
The Pacers cut a 15-point lead to two in the second quarter, but Morris kept them at bay with slump-busting shots of his own, burying a couple jumpers that had center Isaiah Hartenstein yelling and fist-pumping as the halftime buzzer sounded. Morris scored 21 on the night, a return to form for him and fellow offensive pillar Jackson.
“They’re our two guys we’re going to play through,” Lue said before the game“and so when they play well, we play well.”
Yet when the fourth quarter rolled around and the going got tough it was the unassuming Batum who shone brightest, scoring 20 points.
He sank corner three after corner three, finding a sliver of daylight and a pure stroke in every moment when it felt like the game was slipping away. Batum, averaging nine points a game, now stands as one of four players to score 30 in a half this season, alongside Jaylen Brown, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry.
“Good for them to be with me,” Batum joked. “Don’t get used to it.”
Batum credited Coffey for setting him up, credited Jackson and Morris for getting on a roll — he just happened to be a benefactor.
“I didn’t do anything crazy, actually,” Batum said. “I was just wide open.”
The Clippers will fly to Denver next for a Wednesday clash with the reigning most valuable player, Nikola Jokic, before a seven-game tour across Eastern Conference cities. Currently spinning their wheels in the midst of the Western Conference’s play-in race, the seventh-place Clippers (22-23) will have a chance to pick up ground against East teams in a similar spot such as the New York Knicks, Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets.
When the abyss beckons far from home, the Jackson-Morris-Batum veteran formula will be ready.
“They’ve been there in big moments,” Lue said. “We needed every bit of it tonight, just to close that game.”
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