Clippers blow big lead, rely on defense to beat Kings

LOS ANGELES – Maybe it was complacency, a sense that this game was already secured and put away.
If it was, the Clippers realized soon enough Saturday afternoon that a 20-point lead in the second quarter can dissipate just as quickly as it’s built.
The defense that let them down in the second half saved the Clippers at the end when center DeAndre Jordan partially blocked a shot by DeMarcus Cousins to preserve a 103-102 victory over the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center.
Or maybe Jordan didn’t block it. He wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I was just praying that they didn’t call a foul.”
The Clippers knew they got away with one, and there was a sense of relief among the players after they once led 38-18 in the second quarter but then fell behind 79-78 with 8 minutes, 40 seconds left in the game on a jumper by Patrick Patterson.
“That’s the NBA,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. “It’s a game of runs. The game is so long, and you can get up 20, down 20.”
The Clippers again had to rely on guard Chris Paul, who dropped in a three-pointer just before the shot clock expired to tie the game 98-98, then came back with a drive with 1:04 remaining after Cousins missed two free throws. Paul scored and was fouled by Luc Mbah a Moute but missed the free throw.
The Kings tied the game 100-100, then 102-102, before Paul made one of two free throws with 2.5 seconds left. That set up the game’s final play, and Jordan’s block on Cousins, who had a game-high 23.
Paul’s streak of double-digit points and assists ended at 13 games to start the season, an NBA record, but he still came up with the key baskets. He finished with 22 points and nine assists. Jordan had 17 points and 12 rebounds.
The Clippers held the Kings to 37.5 percent shooting in the first half, but Sacramento got inside for easy buckets over the final two periods. The Kings scored 46 points in the paint and outscored the Clippers 19-2 on second-chance points.
“Our first-quarter defense, it can’t be much better,” coach Doc Rivers said. “We were in the right spots, our hands were active. It was sensational. Then we gave up 35 points in the second quarter. That changed the game, really.”
There is clearly no affection between the two teams, especially Cousins and Clippers forward Blake Griffin. Kings backup forward Travis Outlaw was called for a flagrant 2 foul, an automatic ejection, in the fourth quarter after he collared J.J. Redick on a drive to the basket.
After the game, at a time when players traditionally shake hands, Cousins was seen pulling away teammate Isaiah Thomas from greeting Crawford. Bad feelings?
“It’s old now,” Paul said, perhaps a reference to the teams’ feud that is ongoing.
This time, the Clippers held on. But they understand the importance of protecting a big lead with defense.
“It’s a mental thing,” Griffin said. “You have to stay locked in and be focused.”