April 24, 2024

There was no hiding from the significance of this game for the Clippers, on the road against the best team in the Western Conference.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been a thorn in the Clippers’ basketball world this season, using their immense size and defensive prowess to thwart L.A. in the first two meetings, the last a 21-point beating.

Sunday presented the Clippers the opportunity to stand up to Minnesota, which they did during a tense and tight 89-88 win in front of a noisy, packed Target Center that included Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

Kawhi Leonard was up to the task, scoring the Clippers’ final five points on his way to a game-high 32.

Norman Powell, a top candidate for the NBA’s sixth man of the year, added to the cause with 24 points off the bench by going shooting six of eight from three-point range.

“To me, this is a big game to see where we’re at,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said pregame. “Enough of the talking. We haven’t played as well as we needed to in the last 10 games. So, tonight is a big game for us to see how we come out and playing against the No. 1 in the West and see how we play.”

The Timberwolves, who had won the last four games against the Clippers, entered a confident group that owned the best record in the West and second best in the NBA.

Minnesota’s front-line size of 7-foot-1 center Rudy Gobert, 7-0 forward Karl-Anthony Towns and 6-9 forward Jaden McDaniels is a big reason why the Timberwolves are rated so high on defense.

They give up only 106.6 points per game, which is first in the league, and allow teams to shoot just 44.5% from the field, which is also first.

Getting 7-0 center Ivica Zubac back after he missed the last two games with an undisclosed illness gave the Clippers some size to combat Minnesota.

But when the Clippers got down 16 points in the first half, during which their first two possessions were turnovers and the next three were missed shots, they had to pick themselves up to stay in this important game.

The Clippers did by playing stellar defense, holding the Timberwolves to 38.8% shooting, while improving their record to 39-20, fourth in the West.

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