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HomeNewsLosing streak over: Paul George, Kawhi Leonard power confounding Clippers to comeback

Losing streak over: Paul George, Kawhi Leonard power confounding Clippers to comeback


The Clippers entered the season believing that their depth and talent would place them in a league of their own within the Western Conference.

Sixty-seven games in, they’ve done just that, transforming what some say would be one of the NBA’s best teams into arguably its most confusing.

They looked set to freefall in the third quarter on Sunday and went full throttle to cap off the bravest, most needed win of the season, a 135-129 victory against Memphis.

With 42 points from Paul George and 34 from Kawhi Leonard, including 15 in the fourth quarter, the Clippers ended their five-game losing streak and secured a win on a night that at one point lost direction to the franchise seemed.

After Memphis allowed 51 points in the third quarter, the Clippers allowed only 17 in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers arrived at the Crypto.com Arena on Sunday night as the West’s only winless team since the All-Star break ended in mid-February.

At the start of the season, the stretch run of the schedule after the All-Star break seemed like a chance to rest and tune into the playoffs.

Instead, a streak that has continued through one-point losses in Denver, San Francisco and Sacramento has turned into a survivability to stay in the postseason picture.

And that’s why the stakes were higher than usual on Sunday, as their almost full roster — featuring only Norm Powell and his injured left shoulder — had no excuse for a heavily understaffed Memphis roster.

Kawhi Leonard thinks to give the Clippers a 122-121 fourth quarter lead against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The All-Star ignition in Ja Morant will miss at least two games, his timetable for a return is unclear after that, amid a league investigation into the guard’s Instagram video of him posing with a gun.

Starting big man Steven Adams had an injured knee.

An Achilles tendon tear late last week sidelined athletic wing Brandon Clarke for the remainder of the season. And drawing too many technical fouls had led to a suspension for chief instigator Dillon Brooks.

The Clippers desperately needed a win.

They once again recalled why they tread water – and why a glimmer of hope in capturing their potential remains in their dressing room as they improved to 34-33.

Instead of adjusting his starting lineup, coach Tyronn Lue went back to his stock look of Leonard, George, Ivica Zubac and Marcus Morris Sr.

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is fouled by the Grizzlies' David Roddy during the second quarter Sunday.

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is fouled by the Grizzlies’ David Roddy during the second quarter Sunday. Leonard finished with 34 points.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

But with the Clippers still looking lackluster at halftime, with Morris’ impact minimal after missing all four of his shots while adding one rebound and one assist, Lue started Nicolas Batum over Morris in the second half.

Within a minute, their halftime five-point lead had expanded to 11. But less than eight minutes later, with their defense again in tatters and three largely preventable turnovers leading to seven Grizzlies points, the Clippers trailed by 10.

And when Grizzlies reserve Santi Aldama turned and spun on Terance Mann at the free-throw line with a drive that ended in a dunk, and Desmond Bane followed up on the next possession with a three-pointer in transition, the lead swelled to 16.

The Grizzlies scored 51 points in the third quarter, a record low for a Clippers defense that has been among the league’s worst in the past two months.

Between the third and fourth quarters, as the Clippers pondered how to dig themselves out of a 15-point gap, reserve Robert Covington — who received praise from Lue after a season-high 31 minutes Friday but was back out of rotation against Memphis — watched with a glance of a thousand feet from the couch as Leonard similarly sat expressionless beside him.

Then came the avalanche, the Grizzlies couldn’t score for nearly six minutes until a layup from Bane that ended a run of 17 consecutive points in the Clippers’ fourth quarter.

Their run was interrupted by a dunk and foul by Russell Westbrook in which he yelled at Bane, an exclamation not heard among the roaring crowd.

The series grew to 24-2.

Eric Gordon scored 17 points off the bench and Mason Plumlee added 15 points.

That the Clippers needed such a meeting in the first place was mind-boggling, given the Grizzlies’ skeleton crew roster. The timeline for Morant’s return is unclear, coach Taylor Jenkins said.

With a signature Nike boot and All-Star credentials, Morant has been one of the league’s rising faces, but a series of allegations, capped by his video late Friday led to time away from the team during which Morant said he would seek treatment.

“There are two elements I want to make very clear,” Jenkins said before the tip. “There is a support element, someone who needs to get better and needs some help. And then there is also accountability with the team we have to stand for.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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