For the last month, as the Clippers’ comebacks became customary, they became experts of the chase, rallies from 24, 25 and 35 points down providing a sixth sense for knowing when opponents’ body language had shifted from confident to cratering as their opportunity arrived.
But Thursday, it was the Clippers being run down in the final minutes, the releases on their shots quickened, their expressions grim. One fourth-quarter turnover was met by guard Reggie Jackson lifting his protective goggles to his hairline and rubbing his eyes as if in disbelief in what he was seeing.
With 16 minutes to play, they had led by 17.
With 12 seconds to go, they trailed by one — an alley-oop lobbed from Malik Monk to Lakers star Anthony Davis thrown through the rim and met with thunderous applause in what was technically a Clippers home game at Crypto.com Arena.
But just as the Clippers appeared shaken for much of a fourth quarter in which they were outscored by 11, they finally shook their cold shooting in the final minute and regained the resilience that defined their previous month.
Jackson’s spinning shot off the backboard with four seconds to play pushed the Clippers ahead by the winning margin, 111-110, and Davis’ shot from five feet rolled around the rim before falling out as time expired.
“I saw a lane and the ball touched every part of the rim,” Davis said.
The chaotic sequence capped a game in which the Lakers held sizable edges in second-chance points (by 17) and free-throw attempts (by 14) only to lose by the smallest margin.
Given their recent history, the Clippers’ lost lead was a surprise. The efficiency at the end was not. This was an offense that ranked among the league’s five best in clutch scenarios, and they executed just as coach Tyronn Lue wanted on their game-winning possession to close out their second consecutive win against the Lakers this season in the final minute.
Lue instructed the Clippers to target Lakers rookie Austin Reaves. Jackson literally galloped upcourt, yelling at Terance Mann — Reaves’ man — to set a screen before blowing past Russell Westbrook and spinning past Reaves on the switch
“This team is a confident, resilient bunch,” Jackson said. “We knew they weren’t just going to give us the game.
“I think coach pulled all the right cards at the right time. … Throughout the storm no one lost their mind, lost their head.”
Jackson scored 22 of his 25 points after halftime. Marcus Morris Sr. had 29 points, including a three-pointer with 18 seconds left despite the defense of Trevor Ariza draped all over him to push the Clippers ahead 109-108.
Serge Ibaka also added 20 points, starting in place of the injured Ivica Zubac. It was enough, barely, to hold off a Lakers team that once looked rudderless late in the third quarter while playing on the second night of a back to back without LeBron James. Davis scored 30 points and Monk, whom Lue called “unbelievable,” scored 21 while Westbrook’s hard-charging second half gave him 17 points.
The Lakers (25-28) fell to 2-5 when playing on consecutive nights.
They entered having made a league-high 1,037 shots, on 65% shooting, inside the restricted area of the paint, a stark contrast to the Clippers (27-27) who had made 292 fewer baskets in that area. That Lakers volume, combined with their league-low number of makes and attempts taken inside the paint but outside of the restricted area, were hallmarks of a team that either barreled to the rim or were stopped well short.
It was why this matchup, for a Lakers team that has stumbled its way through the season, looked so enticing. Only three teams had allowed more shots than the Clippers in the restricted area per game. And then they lost Zubac before tipoff for a second straight game because of a sore right calf.
When Lue saw Davis before tipoff in the arena hallway, Davis told the coach he already knew double teams were coming his way to keep the ball out of his hands and his feet outside of the paint.
“The biggest thing is just shrinking the floor and still getting back out there to contest [shots],” Lue said before tipoff. “We got to keep Russ out of the paint. He’s the one that drives the engine of getting to the paint.”
The upside of doing that was obvious. Outside the paint, the Lakers had shot just 36%.
The Lakers finished 26 of 48 inside the paint but just 15 of 40 outside of it.
Carmelo Anthony was 11 minutes into his shift when he winced after a shot and limped gingerly to the locker room and did not return with an injured hamstring, an absence that shifted even more responsibility to Davis after halftime, as Jackson drove directly at the center four times in the third quarter. He was blocked once, a deterrence that wasn’t enough to keep him from scoring on three other drives. Jackson’s drive into the paint and assist on a Morris three-pointer while hanging in mid-air pushed the Clippers’ lead to 15.
The scene repeated itself often, the Clippers moving the ball from side to side and rotating Lakers defenders with it, leading to one of the most stunning images of the night, as 33-year-old Nicolas Batum drove from the corner after catching a skip pass and pushing the ball over Talen Horton-Tucker’s extended arms at the rim. It wasn’t quite a poster dunk, but also wasn’t a block, and with Jackson scoring 12 points in the third quarter and Morris 13, their lead grew to 17 with 16 minutes to play.
But after scoring with 44 seconds left in the third quarter, the Clippers didn’t muster a single point for five minutes, their reserves struggling mightily while Westbrook kept pushing, scoring six unanswered points to cap a 12-0 run to trim the Lakers’ deficit to just four with 8:41 left.
“For some reason when you get the lead you get lackadaisical,” Morris said. “I think we took our foot off the gas.”
It set off a mad dash that wasn’t over until the final seconds, a role reversal that ended with a familiar ending, the Clippers pulling out a win when it looked so unimaginable, so late.
All those close games? Jackson said the Clippers are “just trying to give fans their money’s worth.”
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