As disappointed as Clippers coach Doc Rivers was to see his team give up 80 first-half points, he now has evidence that his team can do that and still find a way to win — on the road.
Kawhi Leonard scored 39 points and the Clippers rallied to beat the recently resurgent New Orleans Pelicans 133-130 on Saturday.
“Clearly, the defense didn’t wake up for either team," Rivers said. "It was one of those games where, at halftime, I said, ‘Guys, first team that plays any defense will win this game.’
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“We played defense in the fourth,” Rivers continued. "That’s why we won.”
Lou Williams scored 14 of his 32 points during a dominant fourth quarter for Los Angeles, which outscored the Pelicans 31-20 in the final 12 minutes.
“I feel like I can make 100 in a row once I make one," Williams said of his fourth-quarter surge. "I feel like I can make anything after that.”
Williams' 3 with 31.6 seconds left, after Patrick Beverley had rebounded Leonard's miss, gave the Clippers a 133-127 lead and sent numerous fans toward the exits.
“Very talented scorer — fearless, just goes out there and plays the game," Leonard said of Williams. "He pushed us to win that game in that fourth quarter. It just gives you relief that you have somebody that also can take over.”
JJ Redick hit a quick 3 in response to Williams' clutch basket, and after Leonard ran down the shot clock and missed from deep, New Orleans had 2.4 seconds to attempt a tying 3 that Redick missed off the back rim.
“The Pelicans can score. They've got a lot of talent over there," Leonard said. “They have youth. ... They play hard. So Doc just wanted us to grind out the win. He kept telling us we just got to find a way.
"And, obviously, everybody wants to play better defense,” Leonard added.
Montrezl Harrell scored 24 points for the Clippers, who trailed by 10 in the final seconds of the third quarter, but turned Brandon Ingram's turnover into two free throws by Williams, and then opened the fourth with an 8-0 run — capped by Williams' and JaMychal Green's back-to-back 3s — to tie it at 110.
After shooting 58.5% (38 of 65) in the first three quarters, the Pelicans made 8 of 21 shots in the fourth as the game slipped away from them.
“Both teams kind of slowed down a little bit in the fourth quarter, but I think we probably turned the ball over a couple of times and let a rebound get away, and they just went and made baskets,” said Pelicans center Derrick Favors, who had 22 points and 11 rebounds. “It was more maybe letting like little things take us out the game.”
Lonzo Ball had 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans, who were seeking their 11th victory in 15 games despite the recent absence of guard Jrue Holiday, who has missed seven games with an elbow injury.
Beating the contending Clippers was going to be a tall order, but Ball asserted, “I don’t believe in moral victories. I thought we should have won the game.”
Ingram had 21 points and Redick finished with 19.
The teams combined for 152 points in a fast-paced first half, during which New Orleans' 80 points tied a franchise record.
Favors made his first seven shots and had 15 of his points in the opening 24 minutes, when the Pelicans shot 63.6%.
Clippers: Landry Shamet scored 11 points. ... The Clippers were without Paul George (left hamstring) for a fifth straight game. ... Los Angeles scored 24 points off 21 Pelicans turnovers. ... Improved to 11-9 on the road.
Pelicans: Set a franchise record for second-quarter points with 45. ... Rookie center Jaxson Hayes scored 14 points and fellow first-round draft choice Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 10. ... Missed 13 of 36 free throws. ... Shot 11 of 21 from 3 in the first half, 4 of 20 after that.
LEONARD'S SCORING SURGE
Leonard has scored at least 30 points in each of his last five games, his longest such stretch this season, which includes his season-high 43 points against Cleveland.
His highlights in New Orleans included a foul-line jumper as he fell backwards after being fouled by Josh Hart, his steal from Ingram for a breakaway dunk and and a driving dunk over the 6-foot-11 Hayes.
“Making shots," Leonard said. "Simple as that.”
Asked about his mindset when he dunked on Hayes, he said, "obviously when you see a (defender) come with intensity, you want to try to raise your level and jump as high as you can.”
Clippers: Visit Dallas on Tuesday night in the second game of a six-game trip.
Pelicans: Visit Memphis on Monday night in their last game before the scheduled regular-season debut of top overall draft pick Zion Williamson.