June 23, 2024

Of all the turnarounds in this Clippers season, few have been so sudden as Sunday, when the offense that had gone stagnant couldn’t miss, and the defense that couldn’t get a stop became impenetrable.

For the first 42 minutes and change inside Crypto.com Arena, the Clippers were out of sorts, trailing by as many as 18 points, and with three weeks to go before the NBA’s trade deadline, offered a window into why they are a contender but still an unfinished product.

For the final 5:33, they produced as dominant a stretch as any this season, finishing on a 22-0 run over that span to beat Brooklyn 125-114. In the fourth quarter overall, the Clippers outscored the Nets 41-15.

The defensive stand leaves the Clippers now 27-14 at the midway point of the regular season.

James Harden scored 24 points with 10 assists and five rebounds, Russell Westbrook scored 23 with nine rebounds and six assists off the bench, and both were part of the five-wing closing lineup that included Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Norman Powell that coach Tyronn Lue turned to to juice the fourth-quarter comeback.

Leonard added 21 points and Terance Mann had 13.

After being excellent while filling larger roles during the Clippers’ first game Tuesday without injured starter Ivica Zubac, backup centers Mason Plumlee and Daniel Theis were expendable Sunday, with Lue closing each half without either on the floor. The Clippers had been outscored when either played as part of lineups that dug their first hole in the first quarter, and then another in the second.

With Brooklyn launching from beyond the three-point line — its first six shots were all threes — including from the corners, where it has shot as accurately as any team in the league, Brooklyn led 16-0 not even five minutes into the game. Within four minutes it was tied, 18-all, behind Mann’s corner three-pointers and Westbrook’s play.

If their first rally from down double digits took only minutes, their next took them the rest of the game. With 5:15 to play before halftime, the Clippers again trailed by 16 points as lineups featuring their stars struggled. Leonard, George and Harden combined to make six of their 22 shots in the first half. George missed his first seven shots, Leonard his first five, and the Clippers were outscored by 17 in Harden’s 17 first-half minutes.

Brooklyn met signs of Clippers progress with pushback. Westbrook’s finger-roll layup to pull within 80-71 in the third quarter was barely out of the net before Spencer Dinwiddie immediately passed the ball upcourt for a layup by Cam Johnson — just three seconds later.

In the fourth quarter, when Westbrook’s open-court dunk with seven minutes remaining and Theis’ dunk on the very next possession brought the Clippers to within seven points, Brooklyn answered with baskets each time.

In hindsight, it was Brooklyn’s last stand. And the start of the Clippers’ own.

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