LOS ANGELES — The game was lost, or at least it seemed headed in that direction. But the Clippers may have learned something about themselves Wednesday night, that their resilience can take them far this season.
They won a game that was slipping away in the fourth quarter. They didn’t allow themselves to get swallowed up by a 17-point deficit. They kept plugging away.
With less than five minutes left, they trailed the Dallas Mavericks 123-106 at Staples Center. Then they went on a 23-4 run and scored the last 11 points of the game to win 129-127.
"We had every reason to fold at that point," guard Jamal Crawford said. "Things weren’t going right, but the coaches kept saying, ‘Just keep believing, keep hanging in there, do it with your defense.’ "
The comeback was the Clippers’ biggest this season, giving them four consecutive wins at home and six wins in seven games overall as they start their annual Grammy trip on Friday in New York. They don’t return to Staples until Jan. 29, so this was the perfect — and at times imperfect — sendoff.
"We absolutely lost it for a while," coach Doc Rivers said. "We lost our way, but our guys figured it out."
The Clippers got a career-high 33 points from J.J. Redick, who made 7 of 9 three-pointers, and got 23 from Blake Griffin and 25 from Matt Barnes off the bench. But a 72-62 lead at the half dissolved in the fourth when the Mavericks ran off 15 unanswered points.
In a matter of minutes, the Clippers were suddenly down by 10, 116-106. Then it became 17, 123-106.
So a comfortable lead became a sizable deficit – and then a comeback victory.
"I can’t explain the game," Rivers said. "We had J.J. guarding Dirk (Nowitzki) on one play — and it worked. It was one of those games where you just threw the kitchen sink and tried everything."
Defensively, the Clippers were a mess. Nowitzki and Samuel Dalembert gave the Mavs a jolt in the third period, scoring 10 points each, and Dallas shot 58 percent (14-24). The Clippers couldn’t get stops, and they turned the ball over five times.
"We just lost a little bit of focus on the defensive end," Clippers guard Darren Collison said. "They played well, they were executing well and their guys hopped up for a little bit. They made their run, so I was happy we made our run at the end of the game."
Omg what a game!! What a comeback!!! Total team win!! Our D wasn't good but it was perfect the last 2 min!!! Big stops and big time shots
The finish was something the Mavs have seen before. The game marked the fourth time this season they’ve lost after leading by 17 points or more.
But the Clippers know they can learn from this. The importance of keeping focused and playing defense can sometimes carry them through tough times.
"We’ve been in this position before," Barnes said. "I think we showed a little bit of maturity tonight. We lost our cool for a while and the game was slipping away, but we talked to each other. We said, ‘We’ve been here,’ and we got together and got a win."