LOS ANGELES — This game was supposed to serve as a test, a barometer of how well the Clippers stacked up against one of the league’s best teams two months before the playoffs began.
“I mean, it’s not going to end our season one way or the other, but we just have a chance to play one of the elite teams in the West, the best team in the West,” coach Tyronn Lue said.
After taking a close look at the competition, the Clippers finished Monday night’s test in roughly the same place they started, one notch below the first-place Minnesota Timberwolves after losing 121-100 at Crypto. com Arena.
Make it a big step.
The Clippers (35-17), who started the evening a half-game behind Minnesota (37-16), finished the evening tied for third place with the reigning NBA champion, the Denver Nuggets (36-18). ), who lost to the Milwaukee Bucks. in a previous match on Monday. Second-place Oklahoma City (36-17) was inactive.
“It’s just good to have (a game like this) and see, in April and May, when you play these elite teams and see how they want to attack you and how they want to try to exploit you ” Lue said. “It’s good for us to see this and learn from it.”
If the Clippers – who are 27-7 since the start of December – hope to take first place in what should be an ever-changing conference race, they must learn to combat the Timberwolves’ inside game and stop the triple threat of Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards.
After twice rallying from 10-point deficits in the first half, the Clippers couldn’t match that intensity in the second half. They fell behind as many as 19 points in the third quarter as Towns went to work as part of a 27-8 run to close the period. He scored 10 of his 24 points in the third quarter to help the Timberwolves open an 89-72 lead, then sat out much of the final quarter.
Minnesota shot 12 of 19 from the field and made all 13 of its free throws in the third, while the Clippers were 7 of 20 from the field and committed five turnovers that resulted in Minnesota’s six points.
Towns, who shot 8 of 12 from the field that night, also had four rebounds and three assists. Edwards finished with 24 points despite making just one of his 11 3-point attempts. He recorded seven rebounds and eight assists and made all six of his free throws.
Gobert added 17 points and 10 rebounds.
The Clippers were led by Paul George, who finished with 18 points after a slow start. His two 3-pointers pushed him past Eric Piatkowski for first place on the Clippers’ all-time 3-point list – passing Piatkowski with a 24-footer in the third quarter. He now has 740 career 3-pointers.
Kawhi Leonard also had 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting and James Harden finished with 17 points and six assists, while Russell Westbrook added 11 points and three assists. Center Ivica Zubac had 10 rebounds to go along with her six points.
The Clippers struggled to find the basket early and fell behind by as many as 10 points twice before Harden and George broke them out of their funk with a late charge in the final minutes of the first half to take a 53-49 halftime lead. .
Trailing 47-43, Harden made two free throws followed by a layup from Mann. George, who had just two points in the first quarter, made a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in the second to give the Clippers their first lead at 50-49.
Harden then got the ball and made a 3 at the buzzer for a four-point lead, 53-49.
The Clippers had recovered from a 43-33 deficit to tie the score and had a chance to take the lead, but Harden missed a 3-point attempt that would have given the Clippers their first lead. Moments later, Harden redeemed himself with a 14-footer that tied the score at 43 with 2:53 left in the first half. His shot capped a 10-point run, setting up the Clippers’ late surge before halftime.
More to come on this story.
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