This is not how the Clippers expected to prepare for the final stretch of the regular season.
The NBA’s hottest team at the start of the season has looked quite mediocre over the past two weeks, and Chris Paul is pretty sure he knows why after the team’s fourth loss in seven games.
”We keep making the same mistakes,” Paul said following Los Angeles’ 116-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. ”Last year we had something where we could get stops when we needed to. Right now I don’t think we have the confidence that we need defensively.”
The Clippers’ problems extended to both ends of the court against the Kings.
After building an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Los Angeles went cold offensively while Sacramento stormed back to score 38 points in the final 12 minutes.
Toney Douglas had 17 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter for the Kings, who beat the Pacific Division-leading Clippers for the first time in more than two years.
They did it behind a stellar effort off the bench from Marcus Thornton and a smothering defense that held Los Angeles to just five buckets in the final quarter.
”That looked like the Kings at the beginning of the year,” said Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins, who had 17 points in his return following a two-game absence. ”We definitely locked it down on D.”
Thornton had 25 points while Tyreke Evans added 17 for the Kings.
Blake Griffin had three of the Clippers final four buckets and finished with 26 points, four rebounds and five assists. But the Los Angeles dunk machine didn’t get much help down the stretch when Sacramento held Los Angeles to 18 points in the fourth quarter.
Thornton went 7 of 14 from the floor and made six 3s but it was Douglas, the midseason acquisition from Houston, who came up biggest for Sacramento. He made three straight 3s after the Clippers pulled within 98-96 then added four free throws in the final 1:30 to help seal the win.
Cousins, who missed the past two games with a bruised left quad, also gave the Kings a spark despite playing in foul trouble most of the game. The emotional Cousins helped hold Los Angeles center DeAndre Jordan to 11 points, and finished with 11 rebounds for his 29th double-double of the season.
The Clippers went into the game third in the Western Conference but fell to the fourth spot behind Memphis following their first loss to the Kings since Feb. 28, 2011.
”They were celebrating like they won the Finals over there,” said Paul, who had 11 points and 15 assists. ”That’s good, though. We just have to find a way top make it mean as much to us.”
It didn’t help coach Vinny Del Negro’s team when they lost starting guard Chauncey Billups to a groin injury in the first quarter, but Los Angeles was still up 86-78 following Jamal Crawford’s fifth 3 of the night.
That’s when Sacramento responded with a 13-0 run ignited by eight points from Evans.
Thornton later made a 3-pointer to put the Kings up 94-89 then Sacramento withheld one final push by the Clippers until Douglas’ late scoring barrage.
”The game plan was to be aggressive as much as possible from a defensive standpoint,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. ”We could give up some highlight dunks and some threes – that’s going to happen – but we hoped over the course of the game our guys could wear them down.”
Griffin helped the Clippers get off to a fast start. He had eight points in the first quarter, including a two-handed jam that capped an 11-2 run and put Los Angeles up 21-15. Griffin also had an assist on Jordan’s alley-oop dunk during the run.
Sacramento tied the game on Isaiah Thomas’ layup with 0.2 seconds remaining in the quarter before Griffin opened the second with another thunderous throw down, this time on an alley-oop pass from Matt Barnes.
Crawford later scored eight straight points for Los Angeles before Sacramento made four consecutive 3s and Cole Aldrich followed up Jimmer Fredette’s miss to give the Kings a 45-41 lead.
The Clippers regained the advantage despite losing Billups but Cousins returned after resting most of the period and scored on consecutive trips down the court to put Sacramento ahead 56-54 at halftime.
Los Angeles regained the lead in the third and went up 86-78 following Crawford’s 3-pointer early in the fourth before Evans sparked Sacramento’s big run to put the Kings ahead.
Notes: Sacramento forward Jason Thompson had to be taken to the locker room after suffering a cut over his right eye following a collision with Jordan. Blood streamed from Thompson’s face and the game was halted briefly while he was escorted off the court. … The Clippers missed a chance to secure their first winning record on the road since 2005-06.