SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sleep Train Arena did anything but put people to sleep on Wednesday night, as the Los Angeles Clippers closed out the Sacramento Kings down the stretch 111-104 for a dramatic finish to start the season.
Blake Griffin led the new-look Clippers with 33 points and Chris Paul contributed 18 points and 11 assists as the Clippers opened the season with a victory thanks to the heroics of new teammate Paul Pierce.
Pierce hit a late jumper in the waning minutes to help close the game and Los Angeles hung on to defeat the upstart Sacramento Kings who were playing in their final season opener at Sleep Train Arena before the move to a new arena next season.
"This group has been together for some years, they have a good understanding of one another," Pierce said of his teammates. "I'm just trying to fit in and play with that group down the stretch."
Pierce did more than fit in, adding 12 points with seven rebounds off the bench. J.J. Redick scored 15 points as well.
"That's how we want to win," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "Execution is very important. We did that tonight."
The Clippers cruised to a 15-4 lead to start the game before the Kings rallied behind center DeMarcus Cousins who scored 32 points including four three-pointers.
"At first we played terrible," Cousins said. "The turnovers killed us, especially on my end. We could have done a better job sharing the ball. But that being said, we had a great chance of winning the ballgame."
With the Clippers up 13 in the fourth quarter, the Kings showed some grit and determination, coming all the way from behind to take the lead with just under seven minutes remaining in the game.
Despite the loss to open the season, Sacramento looks much-improved under new head coach George Karl. The defense looks better, and the Kings could compete for a final playoff spot in the west with the additions of Kosta Koufos, Rajon Rondo, Caron Butler and Marco Bellinelli to the team.
There was much debate as who would start at small forward for the Clippers, but Lance Stephenson stepped into the role nicely after starting at the position in the final two preseason games.
The Clippers take on the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on Thursday in their home opener as DeAndre Jordan will face the team that he spurned in the final hours of free agency just three months ago.