Clippers dominate late to defeat Kings

Clippers dominate late to defeat Kings

Having watched his team give up at least 122 points in eight consecutive games, Sacramento coach Luke Walton set a small goal for his team before tipoff inside Staples Center.

“I’ll settle for anything under 120 right now,” Walton said.

He got his wish Wednesday against the Clippers. It still didn’t help.

Behind Paul George’s 19 points and 12 assists, and Kawhi Leonard’s 32 points, six steals and five assists the Clippers used another dominant third quarter to pull away for a 115-96 victory.

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Five takeaways from the fifth consecutive win that moved the Clippers (11-4) into a tie with the Lakers for the NBA’s best record:

Star power

Coming into this season, coach Tyronn Lue and his staff wanted to maximize their best players’ talents. In practice that meant “putting the ball in PG and Kawhi’s hands and kind of force-feeding them to let them make plays,” Lue said. Both have responded with career-high assist percentages, a trend that continued against the Kings when George matched his career-high of 12 assists for the first time in eight years. The Clippers scored 31 points — including seven three-pointers — off of his passes.

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Better by a third

The Clippers have built their winning streak on the strength of transforming into the NBA’s most dangerous team after halftime. During their last five third quarters, they’ve outscored opponents by a combined 56 points. The Kings have been victimized twice: Their league-worst defense was outscored by 21 last week before seeing their five-point halftime deficit Wednesday balloon to 20 entering the final quarter.

The common thread throughout has been shooting: During their last five third quarters, the Clippers have made 26 of their 48 three-pointers, including four makes on seven shots from deep Wednesday.

Applause for Zubac

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When center Ivica Zubac caught a pass from Leonard in the third quarter and finished a layup while being fouled, Leonard held his right fist above his head while Patrick Beverley bounced out of his seat on the bench to applaud. There haven’t been many moments through the season’s first month for Zubac to celebrate like he did against Sacramento, when he produced his most impactful performance this season (11 points and 12 rebounds in 23 minutes).

What a pair

When Lou Williams returned from a two-game absence because of discomfort in his hip, so did his pairing with fellow reserve guard Luke Kennard, a move curious because Lue recently said he wanted to minimize the combination as much as possible. Among the many rotation changes Lue made after the first 10 games, breaking up Williams’ and Kennard’s minutes was at the top of his list because of the defensive liabilities the combination presented around the perimeter.

After averaging 12.5 minutes together during the first 10 games, and being outscored in those minutes, the duo had been paired for just eight minutes total in their two games since Lue’s changes — and outscored opponents by nine in that short span. They played a five-minute stretch together in Wednesday’s first half. The Clippers outscored the Kings by one in the stretch.

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Finish it

The Clippers have been hurt at times because of poor first-half finishes, but they turned a tie with three minutes to play in Wednesday’s second quarter into an eight-point lead before conceding a late three-pointer before halftime by Kings guard Buddy Hield. It capped a first half where the Clippers were often careless with turnovers and had no answer for the speed of guard De’Aaron Fox, who scored 17 points.

Yet as has been the case during a season in which the Clippers lead the league in three-point percentage, their strong finish was related to their deep shooting.

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A trio of three-pointers in the final three minutes gave them 10 for the half, marking a league-high-tying sixth time they’ve made at least 10 threes in a first half this
season.

For the game, the Clippers made 16 of 35 from beyond the arc.

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