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Clippers unable to hold 18-point lead in loss to Magic in overtime

Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero shoots over Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard and guard Paul George.
Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero shoots over Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and guard Paul George during the first half Wednesday in Orlando, Fla.
(Scott Audette / Associated Press)
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This was the Clippers as they expected to be: drives leading to open three-pointers, possessions leading to points, clamp-down defense leading to a commanding lead, their stars leading a franchise to wonder how far efforts like this could take them.

It lasted for one quarter.

The final three Wednesday night in Amway Center displayed the Clippers as they have been in reality, 26 games into this season: lacking consistency, a team capable of producing mesmerizing highs but head-scratching lows and lineups that click only to suddenly not be able to be played.

One game after Paul George’s and Kawhi Leonard’s clutch plays sealed a victory in their long-awaited returns from injury, the All-Star duo pushed to a dominant, 18-point first-quarter lead. When it was gone at the end of regulation, so were Leonard and George, seated on the sideline as overtime began, the decision dictated because each had bumped against their prescribed minutes limit, coach Tyronn Lue said.

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Each got one last chance in overtime to snatch a win back.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George return for the Clippers, who edge the Hornets with second unit providing a critical rally to begin a four-game trip.

After 29 minutes in regulation, Leonard checked in for the final 82 seconds of overtime. And after the Clippers committed a five-second inbounds violation while trailing by just one with seven seconds left — a turnover that drew a disbelieving reaction from Lue — George, after 33 minutes, reentered with five seconds left, the Clippers down 113-111, for one play. It was intended to clear out one side of the court and allow George to take a nearly full-court inbounds pass and make a play.

George had his opening but the long pass sailed out of bounds, just out of reach, a 116-111 loss going with it.

George felt as though he could finish the game and Leonard also wanted to be on the floor to start overtime, not sandwiched into tight courtside seats where they were joined by point guard Reggie Jackson, who also came out of the game after regulation after making five of his 20 shots in 31 minutes.

“You understand the medical side of it where this is my second game back from a hamstring injury and we got another one tomorrow night so I get it, it’s just tough, it’s tough,” George said. “The competitive side takes over and I want to compete and we got ourselves in a tough finish. As one of the leaders, I want to be out there and help close the game out.”

Clippers guard Terance Mann reaches for a the ball while under pressure from Orlando Magic centers Moritz Wagner and Bol Bol.
Clippers guard Terance Mann reaches for a the ball while under pressure from Orlando Magic center Moritz Wagner, left, and center Bol Bol during the second half Wednesday in Orlando, Fla.
(Scott Audette / Associated Press)

Said Leonard: “They’re just trying to protect, I guess, us as players. You know, at times I feel like we should be in to close quarters out like the end of that third, but like I said, I guess medical staff is just trying to protect us as players, I mean, at least me, because it’s my second game back.

“Hopefully we can get beyond this and we can just play basketball.”

Lue said the Clippers (14-12) tried to save Leonard’s final available minute for overtime, and felt the starters’ extra-time replacements in Amir Coffey, Ivica Zubac and Terance Mann “did a good job of just holding it down,” he said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the win.”

Mann was invaluable with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists off the bench.

If much of the focus will remain on the players who weren’t available for much of the extra period, this game was lost long before by the plays not made during the final three quarters.

The Clippers assisted on eight of their first 10 baskets, made six of their first 10 three-pointers, with George needing only five shots to score 10 points in the first quarter. Leonard added seven points, matching his eight-minute high for a first half this season. The apparent rout began despite the absences of guards Luke Kennard and John Wall, who aren’t playing on consecutive nights at the moment out of precautionary measures, and starting forward Marcus Morris Sr., who was ill. All three are expected to play Thursday in Miami, and George said he also will play.

The Clippers’ young players nearly cut a 28-point deficit in half, but the visiting Sacramento Kings scored nine unanswered points to seal a victory Saturday at Crypto.com Arena.

Orlando (6-20) switched its defensive coverages on George and Leonard, blitzing extra defenders in hopes of getting the ball out of their hands. Center Ivica Zubac, who fouled out in overtime with 16 points and 13 rebounds after spending much of his night frustrated with officials, called the tactic a surprise.

“I think we’ve been getting blitzed and fired for years now, so I don’t think that took away from it,” Mann said. “I just think we haven’t done it in a while. We haven’t had these guys for a while. ... I think we’re just a little rusty at it.”

It showed. After just one first-quarter turnover, the Clippers committed seven in the second quarter and finished with 17, gifting a Magic team short on offense easy opportunities.


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