The Clippers are starting to find their stride , and the talented threesome of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and James Harden are more in tune with each other now more than at any other time since they came together .
They have won a season-high five straight games, the latest a 119-99 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena.
They built a 30-point lead in the first half, showing signs of a team that is getting more and more comfortable since the rocky start when Harden was acquired and the Clippers were mired in a losing streak that reached six after he joined the team in November.
They increased the lead to 33 in the third quarter, another sign of developing chemistry.
Clippers coach Ty Lue preached patience. His players listened.
“I know we had a rough start, but just staying the course,” Lue said before the game. “I give our players credit just for every single day coming in, every shootaround, every practice, looking to get better and trying to understand and try to find out how they make each other better.”
Leonard was masterful again, his efficient 31 points on 11-for-14 shooting another indication of how he has found his groove in what was a back-to-back game for both teams.
He has been on a tear in his last five games, averaging 28 points on 56.8% shooting, 50% from three-point range, and 5.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
So, if there has been one primary reason why the Clippers have taken off in their last five games, it’s Leonard.
“Just chemistry, playing together,” Leonard said when asked what the Clippers have unlocked in the last five games. “Getting clarity. Knowing what to expect coming into games. Yeah, I think that’s what the biggest thing is.”
The only bad news was George not playing in the second half because of a sore left groin. He had nine points and six rebounds in 16 first-half minutes.
Lue said there was no update on George after the game, but said, “Yessir,” when asked if George could have played in the second half.
Harden was back running the show with precision, scoring 15 points, handing out seven assists and grabbing six rebounds.
Then the Clippers had Norman Powell, who started in the second half in place of George, providing 15 points and Terance Mann getting 10 points.
“The biggest thing for me [has been] just staying with it,” Lue said. “I think early on it was tough for us just trying to figure out how we wanted to play, trying to figure out rotations and all the different things and how James, PG, Kawhi, Russell [Westbrook] could all play together. So, once we figured that out, and just the guys having constant dialogue after practice, before practice, James grabbing Kawhi and PG after practice going through some plays….Everyday just continuing to try to get better.”
The Clippers won this game with a smothering defense.
They kept Kings All-Star guard De’Aaron Fox underwraps, holding the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer (30.4 points per game) to just 14 points on five-for-16 shooting.
They kept the high-flying Kings grounded, holding the league’s eighth-highest scoring team (117.1) to under 100 points.
The Kings shot just 41.9% from the field, 25% from three-point range.
Meanwhile, the Clippers lit up the Kings, making 52.4% of their shots.
“We’re trending in the right direction,” Lue said. “We’re doing a lot of good things and we still have to stay with it and continue to put in the work.”