Clippers show finishing kick, rally past depleted Hornets – Orange County Register

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LOS ANGELES — Lately, the Clippers had lost their focus on defense. They continued to show they could score, but they hadn’t been able to stop their opponents, which had resulted in consecutive losses, including a 37-point drubbing against the Boston Celtics over the weekend.

Looking to stop that pattern, Coach Tyronn Lue stressed the importance of starting Tuesday night’s game with a solid defensive mentality, something that helped propel them to a nine-game winning streak this month.

But while they managed to stop the Charlotte Hornets, it wasn’t exactly what Lue had in mind.

The Clippers led by as many as 10 points but couldn’t put any real separation between them and the Hornets (7-21), eventually securing a 113-104 victory at Arena.

The Hornets, who lost their eighth consecutive game, outscored the Clippers 62-42 in the paint and wouldn’t let the hosts off the hook for most of the night. The Clippers had a 75-65 third-quarter lead after a 3-pointer by George, but Charlotte stole the momentum by going on a 26-9 run. The Hornets got within 82-80 to begin the fourth quarter and finished their run with an 11-2 spurt to take a 91-84 lead with 9:29 remaining.

The Clippers showed a sense of urgency by hitting three 3-pointers during a 19-2 run to take a 103-93 lead with 3:58 remaining. Ivica Zubac scored six points in the run, including the last four. The Clippers tied the score at 93-all on a driving layup by Paul George with seven minutes left, then regained the lead on a step-back 3-pointer by James Harden. Russell Westbrook followed with his second 3-pointer to give the Clippers a six-point lead.

A 3-pointer by George with 1:26 remaining gave the Clippers a 111-100 lead, their late offensive burst coming as their defensive energy picked up, which rushed Charlotte into ill-timed shots and costly turnovers.

Still, it should have been easier for the Clippers, even without All-Star Kawhi Leonard for the third consecutive game.

The Hornets were missing six players: LaMelo Ball (ankle), Brandon Miller (ankle). Frank Ntilikina (tibia), Mark Williams (back) and Amari Bailey and Leaky Black, who are on a G League assignment.

But the Clippers came out meekly on defense, giving the Hornets a glimmer of hope of their first victory against the Clippers since 2009.

“The last couple of games, we haven’t done that,” Lue said. “We haven’t been physical, we haven’t been rebounding the basketball, we haven’t been into bodies (which has) allowed guys to be able to roam around the court freely.

“We just got to do a better job of picking up our physicality and making sure we’re finishing possession with a rebound, which we haven’t been doing a good job of.”

The Clippers were able to stay marginally ahead of the Hornets in large part because of Harden, who finished with 29 points, six rebounds and eight assists, and George, who had 25 points. Zubac finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds and Westbrook contributed 14 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

The Clippers had to pull out the victory without their leading scorer, who missed his third game because of a hip contusion he suffered against Dallas. Lue said that while Leonard is progressing in his rehabilitation, the two-time NBA Finals MVP remains day-to-day.

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