Clippers show title potential

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (centre) going to the basket between Sacramento Kings' Buddy Hield and Richaun Holmes in their NBA game on New Year's Eve. He shook off a slow start to score 21 points with season highs of 11 rebounds and nine
Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (centre) going to the basket between Sacramento Kings' Buddy Hield and Richaun Holmes in their NBA game on New Year's Eve. He shook off a slow start to score 21 points with season highs of 11 rebounds and nine assists as the visiting Clippers won 105-87. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Team effort key in win at Kings as star duo Leonard and George struggle early in game

SACRAMENTO (California) • Paul George and Kawhi Leonard had far more success passing the ball in the first half than they did shooting it - and the Los Angeles Clippers still put up nearly 60 points.

That, as Leonard pointed out later, bodes well for a team in pursuit of their first National Basketball Association championship.

George had 21 points with season highs of 11 rebounds and nine assists to shake off a slow start, and the short-handed Clippers thumped the hosts Sacramento Kings 105-87 on Tuesday night.

Leonard scored 14 of his 24 points in the third quarter to help his team to their 14th consecutive win in Sacramento dating to 2013.

"That's what championship teams are about," said Leonard, who led the Toronto Raptors to the title a year ago before signing with the Clippers.

"Going through play-off runs, the best players aren't going to play great some nights. It might be somebody off the bench or somebody (else) starting that has a big game that propels us to win."

Ivica Zubac added eight points and 13 rebounds and Maurice Harkless scored 12 points.

They also got a big lift from Landry Shamet and Derrick Walton Jr, who combined for 19 points.

The team effort was pivotal on a night when George shot six of 25 and Leonard was eight of 21.

"We just kind of hung in there," coach Doc Rivers said. "We went zone a little bit and changed our look. I just like our defence."

  • 24%

  • Paul George's shooting, making just six of 25 shots from the field.

The Clippers (24-11) played without Patrick Beverley and sixth man Lou Williams. Beverley sprained his right wrist in Saturday's 120-107 loss in Utah while Williams missed the game because of personal reasons.

Richaun Holmes had 22 points for Sacramento (12-22), who have lost eight straight games. "They pushed us around and they had their way," said coach Luke Walton, who coached the LA Lakers from 2016 to 2019.

"We've to be mentally and physically stronger and fight our way out of it. That's the only way to get out of this type of slump that we're in, and we've done it before."

Three days after their 13-point loss to Utah, the Clippers took control in the first half despite both George and Leonard struggling offensively. The All-Stars missed 17 of their first 24 shots combined.

After Shamet's three-pointer gave them a 57-40 half-time lead, the duo got going.

Leonard made five of seven shots in the third quarter as the lead was extended to 19.

George, who missed eight of his first nine shots beyond the arc, made a three to open the fourth. He added another three that put the team 103-86 ahead.

"I had the mindset of just go and attack, be aggressive, be physical," he said. "I got the spots I wanted to. I got to the shots I wanted to. But it's just that stretch for me right now where the ball's not going down."

The Clippers have alternated between wins and losses over the past nine games. George said that is indicative of a team with new players still trying to adjust.

He added: "We've probably got one game under our belt where everybody's been healthy.

"We're still learning (about) each other. Our winning streak's going to come, sooner than later I believe."

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2020, with the headline 'Clippers show title potential'. Print Edition | Subscribe