But JJ Redick hit a quick 3, and after Leonard ran down the shot clock and missed a 3, New Orleans had 2.4 seconds to attempt a tying 3 that Redick missed off the back rim.
Montrezl Harrell scored 24 points for the Clippers, who trailed by 10 in the final seconds of the third quarter, but turned a steal into two free throws and then opened the fourth with an 8-0 run to tie it at 110.
After shooting 58.5% (38 of 65) in the first three quarters, the Pelicans made just 8 of 21 shots in the fourth as the game slipped away from them.
Lonzo Ball had 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans, who were seeking their 11th victory in 15 games despite the recent absence of guard Jrue Holiday, who has missed seven games with an elbow injury.
Patrick Beverley fouled out late in a loss to the Nuggets. As Denver fans waved bye to Beverley, Clippers coach Doc Rivers got two technical fouls and an ejection then waved off a ref on his way off the floor.
DENVER — The Denver Nuggets put an ugly loss behind them with a statement win over a top-tier team.
Nikola Jokic had 20 points and 15 rebounds, and the Nuggets withstood a big rally to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 114-104 on Sunday night.
This bounce-back performance was just what they needed to soothe their psyche after a clunker the night before against a struggling Cleveland squad.
“We looked like a totally different team less than 24 hours later,” guard Monte Morris said.
The moral was easy to decipher: “We have to come to play against teams we’re supposed to beat,” Morris said. “Because we always show up against teams we know that can beat us.”
Trailing by as many 20 points in the second half, Los Angeles had pulled within six with 1:11 remaining when Patrick Beverley was called for a foul on Jokic. After the Nuggets big man made a pair of free throws, Clippers coach Doc Rivers argued with official Nick Buchert. He was given two technical fouls and tossed from the game. Jamal Murray hit both free throws to restore some much-needed breathing room.
“Listen, coaches can lose their composure, so can officials,” Rivers explained. “There’s no way I should have been thrown out of the game.”
Rivers had simply reached his boiling point. He was still seething from a crucial call earlier in the quarter when Montrezl Harrell got whistled for an offensive charge when he stepped in front of Jerami Grant as Grant guarded Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers were in the midst of a 10-0 run at the time.
“The pick was solid,” Rivers said. “The bottom line is I shouldn’t get a tech. That’s No. 1. That’s on me.”
Murray finished with 19 points and reserve Michael Porter Jr. provided a spark by scoring 13 for the Nuggets, who made their last field goal with 6:12 remaining. They went 9 of 10 on free throws from there.
The defensive standout of the game was Grant, who had two big blocks on Leonard.
“A couple of great blocks at the rim you don’t see very often against Kawhi,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Leonard finished with 30 points, while Lou Williams had 26 and Harrell added 25.
The Clippers played without star forward Paul George, who missed a second straight game with a strained left hamstring. Los Angeles dropped to 8-6 this season when George doesn’t play.
This contest marked the first of three between two of the upper echelon teams in the Western Conference.
Gary Harris showed signs of breaking out of a shooting slump by scoring 15 points but didn’t play late. He’s been diligently working on his jumper after shooting 25.6% over his last four games. He was 5 of 9 against the Clippers.
“When he makes shots, the guys need to chase him and it’s a little different story,” said Jokic, whose team led by as many as 20 points in the second half.
Denver had quite a sequence midway through the fourth when Will Barton blocked a shot and Jokic grabbed the rebound. He quickly threw it ahead to Barton, who then dished it off to Morris for a 3-pointer. Denver was up 18 and seemingly cruising along before the Clippers made things interesting down the stretch.
“The focus was there. The energy was there,” Jokic said. “It was a big victory for us.”
Three Things to Know: At 26-12, Clippers still trying to mold championship identity
“We’ve had a lot of wake up calls,” Kawhi Leonard said after the Memphis loss. “I feel like it’s the middle of the season and some of the mistakes that we’re making, we shouldn’t be making at this time.”
“We’re not a great team. We’re not a great team…” Harrell said more bluntly in a frustrated rant after the Memphis loss. “I think that’s what we need to realize and wake up. We’re a team that still has to figure out things to win night in and night-out.”
When the Clippers are at their best they are a gritty, defense-first team that can shoot the three and has ball handlers in Leonard and Paul George who can create shots and get to their spots on the floor in crunch time. At their heart, this is a lunchpail squad that wants to outwork opponents — even their stars are not anointed top picks, they didn’t go to elite college programs (George at Fresno State, Leonard at San Diego State), but they outworked everyone to maximize their talent and get where they are
Patrick Beverley — the ultimate lunchpail guy and the emotional heart-and-soul of the Clippers — said in no uncertain terms Sunday the Clippers know who they are, they just haven’t put it together consistently.
Patrick Beverley on when the Clippers will know who they are – "I think we wake up every day knowing exactly who the f**k we are every night. It's just for us to go out there and put it together collectively as a unit. That takes time. But we will be better." pic.twitter.com/QcIdev5lRO
Injuries and keeping players healthy is a part of that — Doc Rivers has had a fully healthy core of his roster for exactly one game this season. Paul George and Leonard have played fewer than 500 minutes together (461) across 18 games, although the Clippers have a +10.7 rating in those minutes. (For comparison LeBron James and Anthony Davis have played 817 minutes together this season, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray at are at 977 minutes together in Denver).
“It’s been tough, I won’t deny that. It’s been tougher than I thought it would be because of (the injuries)…” Rivers said.
“The continuity that we need to be a champion, to me, it’s hard to work on that or even have, because you don’t have time. I’m not worried about it yet, but it’s actually on my mind.”
There is time, 46 games to be exact. As an organization, the Clippers have played the long game this season, being willing to sacrifice wins now to have Leonard and the rest of the squad rested and healthy when the games really matter in April. The focus is the ultimate prize, one that is earned in May and June.
But that prize requires sweat equity be put in on dull January days, and Rivers knows it. Good habits need to be built, chemistry worked on. The little things come together in those games, not by Rivers snapping fingers in May. That’s where the Clippers are right now, still trying to put things together. They need to put in the work now to mold that championship identity. They have time, but unlike that team down the hall, the Clippers are not far down that road yet.
2) Hassan Whiteside returns to Miami, gets booed, Heat shrug and pick up win. It seemed a bit of an overreaction from Miami fans, but they booed Hassan Whiteside upon his return to Miami Sunday. Booed him when he was introduced and when he touched the ball most of the game. Whiteside may not have lived up to the hype (or his contract) in Miami, but he was himself. He put up numbers — 14.1 points and 11.9 rebounds a game average in his five seasons — but they were mostly empty calorie numbers.
The “we got shooters” chant by Heat fans in the second half was clever. (When Whiteside was traded to Portland over the summer, he posted a video reaction on social media where he praised Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum saying, “We got shooters,” Heat fans didn’t forget.) This season, Miami has plenty of shooters.
Part of Miami’s leap forward this season has been their play in the paint, with Adebayo and Meyers Leonard giving the Heat quality minutes and points. The fans may have had animosity toward Whiteside, the team has shrugged it off and moved on.
3) The Lakers blocked 20 shots in a win against Detroit Sunday. The Lakers are a long team up front. The Detroit Pistons learned that the hard way Sunday.
Anthony Davis led the way with eight blocked shots, and as a team the Lakers rejected 20 Pistons’ shots on their way to a 106-99 win.
Davis had eight blocks, JaVale McGee six, and Dwight Howard five (four of those came in the fourth quarter). Laker guard Avery Bradley had the other block. Los Angeles had given up 60 points in the paint in their last game (against New Orleans) and Davis said the focus on protecting the paint was a reaction to that.
Montrezl Harrell frustrated after Clippers loss: ‘We’re not a great team’
That was Clippers coach Doc Rivers 90 minutes before tip-off Saturday of a 12:30 p.m. game, foreshadowing his team’s performance against Memphis.
When the ball did go up, the sleepy Clippers got their doors blown off. At home. Memphis put up 40 points in the first quarter, led by as many as 18 early, and cruised to a 140-114 win in Staples Center where they were clearly the better team all afternoon.
Postgame, the Clippers had a lot more energy than they showed on the court — and they were their own harshest critics.
“We’re not a great team. We’re not a great team…” Clippers’ center Montrezl Harrell said. “I think that’s what we need to realize and wake up. We’re a team that still has to figure out things to win night in and night-out.”
“No defense, no communication, no energy…” is how Kawhi Leonard described the Clippers’ effort, noting this is not the first time Los Angeles has been flat like this. “We’ve had a lot of wake up calls. I feel like it’s the middle of the season and some of the mistakes that we’re making, we shouldn’t be making at this time.”
Things got so bad that in the fourth quarter that the 25-12 Clippers heard boos from the home fans.
“Us as a team that should wake you up,” Harrell said of the boos. “Losing by 20-plus points on your home floor, getting embarrassed, and booed by your home fans, that should wake anybody up.”
Does Doc Rivers know what his team’s identity is?
“No. And that’s a concern,” Rivers said postgame.
Part of that is injuries, the Clippers have had their full starting lineup and rotation for one game this season. On Saturday, both Patrick Beverley (wrist) and Paul George (tight hamstring) were out. Both could go Sunday against the Knicks.
That opened up room for Memphis rookie Ja Morant to operate, and he put on a show scoring 22 points. That included dropping Jerome Robinson (with a little shove), staring him down, and draining the three.
“We knew it was an early game, I’ve been part of a few, and the team that wants to play usually wins,” the Grizzlies Jae Crowder said. “We was preaching that in [the locker room], we wanted to throw the first punch and that’s what happened.”
Crowder wanted to play — he scored 27 and hit 6-of-11 from three. It’s the perfect game to showcase yourself for a trade to a contender… if you wanted that kind of thing.
Rivers is not freaking out over this one loss, particularly because this is a franchise that publicly and privately has said they are focused on being right for the playoffs, not a Saturday game in January. This is the ultimate big-picture team.
Rivers added he knows his team is not where it needs to be.
“I’m not alarmed because our record’s terrific,” Rivers said. “I just don’t think right now we’re ready yet, and I see that, but I’m not alarmed by it.
“I just don’t want us to think we’re good enough yet… because we’re not… We’re just not playing well.”