No matter what happened against Houston, Friday was going to count as at least one loss for the Clippers.
They avoided a second by weathering a roller-coaster victory that mirrored the ups and downs of their previous 24 hours.
On the same day starting guard Patrick Beverley was lost indefinitely following surgery to fix the left hand he fractured Thursday against Phoenix — a setback for a team that rarely has been whole this season but had just gotten healthier — a roster missing more contributors than just Beverley endured a feast-or-famine four quarters against the Rockets before pulling away for a 126-109 victory, their fourth consecutive at Staples Center.
Wearing protective glasses one night after being poked in the eye, Clippers guard Reggie Jackson scored 26 points to continue his superb play. Kawhi Leonard led the way with 31 points and eight assists.
Playing on consecutive nights and caught flat-footed by the Rockets’ energy, the Clippers allowed a 29-9 Rockets run to trail by 14 early in the second quarter. But instead of following a win against the second-place Suns with a loss against a Houston squad with the West’s second-worst record, the Clippers closed the half on a 41-4 run.
Houston’s 10 second-quarter points were the fewest in any quarter by any team this season, and the quarter’s 31-point differential tied for the second largest in Clippers history.
To clinch the win, the Clippers had to get past Houston’s 20-7 run in the third quarter that trimmed a 21-point halftime deficit to eight, and another push that brought the Rockets within six during the fourth. The Clippers (36-18) closed in most appropriate fashion — a 22-5 run.
The Clippers finished with 31 assists on 48 field goals and are 7-0 when dishing at least 30 assists.
After a significant win against the Suns, who sit one spot ahead of the Clippers in the standings, the team was faced with the equally significant loss of Beverley, who had returned only two games earlier from a knee injury that sidelined him the previous three weeks.
“I’m just fortunate to be back and healthy,” Beverley said Tuesday following a 12-game absence.
His fractured fourth metacarpal, which took place while he was attempting to grab a rebound against the Suns and was operated on Friday morning at the Kerlan-Jobe Surgery Center, will be re-evaluated in three to four weeks. There is no timetable for his return, according to the team.
But there is a timetable, however, on when the postseason will arrive — just 43 days.
“It’s just tough because Pat is such a hard worker, did all the right things to come back and get back to play, to get back to action, and for this to happen the second game back, it’s just tough to see,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’re going to hold the fort down until he gets back; next-man-up mentality.
“I’ll continue to check on Pat every day. I talked to him earlier, so it’s just tough to see somebody go through that, but he’s a warrior and he’ll be back, you know, as soon as he can.”
In the six weeks between now and the postseason, the Clippers’ championship hopes also rest on the health of Paul George (bone bruise), Serge Ibaka (back) new point guard Rajon Rondo (adductor injury).
George sat for rest Friday while Rondo was held out for precautionary reasons, because the team wants to limit his minutes on consecutive nights, Lue said.
Those absences meant more time for Luke Kennard and Terance Mann, the guards whose minutes had been displaced most by this week’s return of Beverley and the addition of Rondo. Each figures to return to larger roles in Beverley’s absence, as well.
Mann tied his career high with nine assists and scored 16 points in 36 minutes after playing 14 total in his previous two games. Kennard scored three points, with six rebounds and three assists, in 26 minutes after four combined minutes in his previous two.
“Injuries are part of the game; hate to see it happen, but it does happen,” Lue said. “Just got to have a next-man-up mentality. But I’ll tell you this, with the guys being injured and guys being out of the lineup, these young guys have really taken advantage.”