With every game being more important than the next down the stretch in March, Los Angeles looks to gain a slight edge over the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz who are all competing for the treasured eighth seed in the Western Conference.
The Clippers definitely felt a sense of urgency Friday night with their matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers, as Los Angeles controlled the tempo from the jump in route to their 116-102 victory, in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,130 fans at Staples Center.
Cleveland’s poor defense early on set the tone for the entire game, as the Clippers ultimately saw six players finish in double-digits.
Los Angeles shot 50 percent from the field in the first quarter, that gave the Clippers a commanding 18-point lead after 12 minutes of play.
“It was a team win,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Like, there were so many different guys. … [Sindarius] was absolutely sensational. His offense was good, but his defense was better and then everybody else contributed in their way and it was nice.”
“We moved the ball, played fast and attacked.”
Tobias Harris led all Clippers scorers with 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while DeAndre Jordan and Montrezl Harrell both cracked the 20 point scoring mark as well.
Jordan added 20 points and 23 rebounds while Harrell chipped in with 20 points and five rebounds. Both players were key in Los Angeles out rebounding Cleveland (64-47) as well, also outscoring the Cavaliers (58-42) in points in the paint.
“I think it was just me trying take advantage and take what they gave me,” added Jordan.
“I just wanted to keep the ball alive and control the paint for us as much as possible… set screens and rolls and try to open the [ball movement] for the rest of the guys.”
Harrell has scored double-figures in 21 of the last 25 games, including eight in a row and has also been averaging 17.0 points per game on 73.6 percent shooting in the aforementioned eight game stretch.
“It’s just about getting my teammates extra possessions,” added Harrell. “We shoot a lot of threes, have a lot of guys who can do things on the offensive side of the floor, so you know with [me] and [DJ], offensive rebounding is one of things we do well… so we just play as hard as we can.”
Defensively, defending LeBron James will always be a challenge in and of itself, but the Clippers did manage to limit James to 8 points at halftime, although he still managed to ultimately finish right around his season average, scoring 25 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Clippers Sindarius Thornwell scored a career-high 14 points and was the lucky individual who got to defend James for majority of the game, holding his own in the win.
“You’re not going to block his shot,” Thornwell said. “Just stay in front of him and make it tough for him. It takes a team to slow him down, it wasn’t just me.”
Newly acquired Cavaliers and former Lakers, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. both played well in their first return to Los Angeles, as Clarkson scored 21 points on 50 percent shooting, while Nance Jr. added 16 points and 12 rebounds on 70 percent shooting.
“I thought their performances were pretty good,” said Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue.
“Big [Boban and DeAndre] could of wore Larry down a little bit, we had to bang with those guys, we’re limited to our bigs right now but I thought they did a pretty good job.”
During the second half of the game, Cleveland was able to find some rhythm and cut their deficit down to only four, 81-77 thanks to a 12-0 run with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
James scored seven of the 12 points during the run, but Los Angeles quickly responded and closed the quarter out on a 4-0 run to take an 85-77 lead into the fourth quarter.
In the final 12 minutes of play, Cleveland was not able to cut their deficit under the eight point mark, as they saw Los Angeles outscore them 31-25 on 61.1 percent shooting, while the Cavaliers were held to 39.1 percent from the field.
With the game already out of reach, Harris connected on a three-point basket and Austin Rivers made the final basket of the night to seal the 116-102 victory for the Clippers.
Rivers and Lou Williams both chipped in with 15 points each respectively, as the duo also combined for 13 of the team’s 25 total assists.