Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers knows exactly what he has in his team, a resilient group of veterans who are built for the big moment.
It was on display when they trailed by five with a minute to play, Los Angeles turned to their closers in Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams to outscore the Houston Rockets 10-2 from there on in route to a hard fought 122-119 victory on Friday night.
With 15 seconds remaining, Leonard dribbled, pump faked and pulled-up to bury the go ahead jump shot for the Clippers, giving them a franchise-best 10-1 record at home with their fourth consecutive win.
“You got Lou, Kawhi and Paul George. They’re going to be composed,” Rivers said. “They’ve been in big games. Each one made a big shot down the stretch.”
“Lou set a great pick,” added Rivers on the Leonard’s final score. “All Kawhi needs is an inch and he got it.”
Williams led the Clippers with 26 points — all in the second half, Leonard had 24 and George added 19 in his second game at Staples Center.
Harden scored 37 points and had 12 assists, while converting 14 of 18 free throws. However, his frustration spilled over after being double teamed by a plethora of Clippers, making him earn every basket.
“The whole season they’re running doubles teams at me,” Harden said on how he’s being defended. “I’ve never seen that in an NBA game where you’ve got really good defenders & someone else running at the top of the key. Y’all let me know the last time you’ve seen that.”
Westbrook added 22 points in his first game against former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Paul George but fouled out late in the fourth. Clint Capela added 17 points and 19 rebounds.
The Clippers led by 14 in the second quarter, only before Houston went on a 19-9 run to cut their halftime deficit to four, 55-51.
In the third, Houston outscored Los Angeles 33-25 and seemed like they would be able to take advantage of the Clippers 19 total turnovers.
Williams kept the Clippers (11-5) alive though with 14 points in the period, making tough contested shots that the Rockets (11-5) simply had no answer for.
“That’s what he does… We all trust him,” said George. “I trust him, he wants to play in the big moments and he’s ready for them.”
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year made more big plays in the fourth and got some help from his two-star forwards in George and Leonard.
Trailing 115-109 with 1:26 remaining, Williams drained a three, followed by George and Williams making back-to-back three-point baskets to take a 118-117 lead.
Harden responded with two free throws to recapture a brief one-point lead, but it was Leonard who ultimately ended the game while draining an 18-foot pull up jump shot, resulting in a 122-119 win for Los Angeles.
“I think we get in a little rhythm in the fourth quarter,” Leonard said. “Not being able to practice with each other, when we go out there, we start seeing what the opponent’s doing on both ends of the floor and kind of just get into a rhythm. We play our best basketball in the fourth quarter. Everyone’s trying to make shots, execute and play great defense.”
Los Angeles next hosts the New Orleans Pelicans (6-10) on Sunday to end a five-game home stand. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00 PM.