Led by Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers actively channeled their units to outlast the Oklahoma City Thunder, 127-105, on Thursday night in Crypto.com Arena.
Leonard popped for 32 points, shooting a superb 13-for-15 throughout the game to power the Clips in avenging their narrow Tuesday loss against OKC.
This marks their first win in embracing the daunting task of holding their line with Paul George out, who will be shelved for two to three weeks with his right knee sprain.
“We’re definitely ready for the challenge,” coach Ty Lue said in postgame. “We have a lot of guys in this locker room, and we’re excited for the challenge.”
Four more players churned double-digit scoring to accompany Leonard against the Thunder, as Russell Westbrook finished with 24 points and seven assists. Sophomore guard Bones Hyland, who was just made active by coach Ty Lue after a series of DNPs and minimal exposure, emerged off the bench with his 16 points. 14 markers meanwhile came in from Terance Mann.
“They really came in and changed the game for us when they came off the bench,” Lue said. “I thought Bones and TMann were great. We needed that speed, we needed that burst.
“They came in and gave us a lot of life in that second quarter, well, at the end of the first quarter and second quarter. And so, it was good to see them guys come out and play great.”
L.A. was hot from the field with their 56 percent collective shooting, while also connecting 48 percent of their attempts from the three-point land. They also moved the ball well to overwhelm Oklahoma City with 34 team assists.
They dominantly closed the Thunder out with a 27-12 run to end the third, 92-80. Then, a barrage of threes was delivered in courtesy of Hyland and Nic Batum to help the Clippers widen the margin.
Clippers’ lead ballooned even more from the sparkling productions of Leonard, ending the match with a 35-25 scoring lead in the final frame.
“We’ve been used to playing with one of those guys out, so we kind of know how to play,” Lue said. “It’s just a little different because now we have Russ, (Mason) Plumlee and now Eric Gordon. And so, for those guys to try to fit in and try to understand how we want to play it might be the thing that’s going to be the most difficult, but we’ll be fine.”
Eight games left in their regular season. It has been a saddening late stretch for the Clippers given the uncertainty of George’s presence as they move gradually toward the postseason scene.
George, who is averaging 23.8 points a game and the team’s lone All-Star this year, could miss the first round of the playoffs should the Clippers manage to enter themselves come April. As such, Leonard can only call a step up from his teammates as they aim to continue holding the grip of the West’s fifth seed.
“Nobody’s head was down,” Leonard said. “We wish PG a speedy recovery and want him to get back to himself but like I said after last game, it’s just next man up. And that’s how we’re going to have to play. We got to keep sharing the ball and then just dial in even deeper and come into these games more focused because we’re missing a superstar.”
The Clippers will continue their homestand as they face the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday.