Clippers lose to Pacers, end eight-game trip with 4-4 record

Pacers guard Caris LeVert attempts a layup between Clippers forward Terance Mann (14) and center Serge Ibaka (9).
The Pacers’ Caris LeVert attempts a layup between Clippers defenders Terance Mann (14) and Serge Ibaka (9) on Monday night in Indianapolis. The Clippers lost 122-116.
(AJ Mast / Associated Press)

One more day.

One more day was left before the Clippers could slip into their comfortable sheets in their home bed, hug their loved ones, bask for a few days in the warmth of the Los Angeles sun.

They were on the road for two weeks, spending days of their lives in the sky. Sure, there was a fun novelty in the team dinners and hotel hangouts, and sharpshooting wing Luke Kennard sprinting up and down their plane’s aisle to dole out high-fives after his Cincinnati Bengals advanced to the Super Bowl, but everyone was thinking of getting back home, coach Tyronn Lue said.

First, they had one more game to play, the decimated Indiana Pacers standing in their way after a victory in Charlotte the previous afternoon.

“It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be tough — we understand it’s eight games in [13] days,” Lue said before the game Monday night in Indianapolis. “But this is a huge game for us, so we’ve got to be ready to go.”


Lue was right: This one was tough. The Clippers came out of the locker room Monday looking like a team in need of a hot tub and a few leg massages. For a minute, it looked as if they would pull off another signature comeback, cutting a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to three with just three minutes left — but the gas tank was empty, and Indiana pulled away in the final minutes to secure a 122-116 victory.

Luke Kennard has been a three-point shooting ace for the Clippers, and getting a chance to attend All-Star weekend would hold special meaning for him.

“It is what it is,” Lue said after the game, shrugging off the loss. “Now it’s time to go back home and try to regroup.”

It would’ve been easy to point at the Clippers’ gas tank being empty. But at every point the Pacers started to go on a run, Los Angeles answered. One began to wonder — could the Clippers pull off a comeback yet again?

With seven minutes left, Indiana had built a 12-point lead, thanks to four three-pointers in the fourth quarter from Duane Washington Jr.

“He came in and had a Gabe Vincent moment for those guys,” Lue said, referring to a recent game against the Miami Heat in which the little-known guard made six threes in the third quarter.

Yet slowly the Clippers chipped away. Amir Coffey finished a layup for an and-one. Reggie Jackson slashed baseline for a hoop, then drilled back-to-back threes.

With less than three minutes to go, Coffey had a chance at a layup to cut the lead to one — but it was blocked by the Pacers’ Justin Holiday, and Indiana didn’t look back in building an eventual 10-point lead.

“We had a rough game to come out from that trip,” said forward Nicolas Batum, who drilled four three-pointers. “Tonight was tough.”

If there was a silver lining, it was the continued emergence of Coffey, who began making threes in the first half and refused to stop to the tune of three third-quarter bombs. He finished with 27 points and shot nine for 14 from the field.

After playing sparingly his first two seasons, Coffey has blossomed as a lanky spot-up threat with sneaky-good vision who unlocks quite a few lineup combinations for Lue. Coffey became integral in the team emerging with a 4-4 record on the trip. He has averaged nearly 20 points per game across his last five outings and the most minutes per game of any Clippers player in January.

“Guys have been out, in protocols, through injuries,” Coffey said after the game. “So that’s kind of the theme of the year — you’ve just got to be ready.”

The Pacers were missing arguably their three top players in All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis, steady guard Malcolm Brogdon and shot-blocking center Myles Turner, giving the loss a special sting.

Los Angeles, which had given up 133 points in a win over the Pacers two weeks ago, looked a step slow defensively Monday, giving up 38 first-half points in the paint.

The absence of center Ivica Zubac (sore right calf) certainly didn’t help, as the Pacers’ Caris LeVert darted into the lane to loft soft floaters over outstretched arms. Defenders such as Terance Mann were playing too tight on LeVert without much help coming in the pick-and-roll sets. The explosive guard found open lanes to the rim time and time again to tally 14 first-half points.

In the second half, Lue made a key adjustment, blitzing LeVert out of the pick-and-roll plays and forcing him to be a playmaker. It worked and the Clippers built an eight-point lead, 80-72, late in the third quarter.

Jackson scored 21 for the Clippers, and Serge Ibaka — starting in place of Zubac — put forward an admirable effort with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) and two blocked shots. But the efforts of Washington and rookie big man Isaiah Jackson, who feasted with 26 points and 10 rebounds, were simply too much to handle.

In the words of Lue, it’s time for the Clippers to get home.