The “Cardiac Clippers” strike again. For a third time this month, the Los Angeles Clippers rallied back from a huge deficit to win a game after falling into a big hole. On Tuesday night, the Clippers erased a 35-point deficit against the Washington Wizards to win 116-115 thanks to seven points in the final nine seconds from Luke Kennard, including a rare four-point play.
The 35-point deficit and comeback set a franchise record for the Clippers. It also tied an NBA record for the second-largest comeback in league history. In 2009, the Chicago Bulls choked down the stretch against the Sacramento Kings, who stormed back after falling behind by 35 points. In 1996, the Denver Nuggets blew a 36-point lead against the Utah Jazz to set the record.
The Clippers pulled off all of these epic comebacks without two All-Stars in the lineup. Kawhi Leonard is out while recovering from an ACL injury and surgery, while Paul George hasn’t played since mid-December when he suffered an elbow injury.
The Clippers (24-25) are struggling this season without their top two players, but they’ve come together as a unit in the past couple of weeks under head coach Ty Lue. If the season were to end today, the Clippers would head to the play-in tournament as the #9 seed in the Western Conference. They’re only a half-game behind the struggling LA Lakers in the #8 seed, and a full game behind the Minnesota Timberwolves in the #7 spot.
Down 35 points? No problemo!
Tuesday night’s game started with the Wizards opening a 9-0 lead. The Clippers didn’t get on the scoreboard until 8:46 remaining in the first quarter. They scored just two points in the first six minutes of the game as the Wizards opened a 15-point lead.
In the second quarter, the Clippers went scoreless for another six-minute stretch where they fell behind 56-25. With 1:20 to go late in the second quarter, the Wizards led 66-31 and extended their lead to 35 points.
The Clippers tallied a mere 36 points in the first half, including a disgusting 13-point second quarter. At least they closed out the half on a positive note, cutting the lead to 30 points heading into halftime.
Lue benched three starters — Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum, and Ivica Zubac — in hopes of jumpstarting the lethargic Clippers in the second half. Lue tapped Kennard, Amir Coffey, and Terance Mann to start the third quarter. The shuffled lineup outgunned the Wizards 40-27 in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 17 points.
“We kept chipping away,” said Lue. “I know when it was like 17 going into the fourth, and I think when we got to 10, we got a real shot.”
The Wizards went cold in the fourth quarter with just 22 points, while allowing the Clippers to score 40 points. Overall, the Clippers caught fire in the second half with back-to-back 40-point quarters.
The Wizards held a seven-point lead with 20 seconds remaining. Kennard knocked down a deep 3-pointer near the center court logo to pull within three points with nine seconds on the clock.
After failing to inbound the ball due to smothering defense by the Clippers, the Wizards turned the ball over due to a five-second violation. The Clippers quickly inbounded the ball and Kennard drilled another 3-pointer from the top of the key while being fouled by Bradley Beal with less than two seconds on the clock.
Kennard completed the rare four-point play to seal the victory for the Clippers. He became the first player in NBA history to win a game with a four-point play. Kennard finished the game with 25 points off the bench, including 5-for-8 from 3-point range. Coffey led all scorers with 29 points.
“Man, that was crazy,” said Kennard after the win.
“I have no words, besides embarrassing,” said Beal after the loss.
“Probably the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of,” said Coffey. “January been wild. You never know when the game is over. Play through the buzzer. Like tonight, anything can happen.”
Comeback Clippers: ‘Just scrap’
The Clippers had two other games this season in which they rallied from down 24 or more points to win. Both of those occurred in January against the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers.
“Why do we keep doing that to ourselves?” wondered Kennard. “I don’t know. I don’t want to do it anymore, though.”
Last Friday, the Clippers pulled off their comeback magic against their former head coach, Doc Rivers. The Philadelphia 76ers blew a 24-point lead in the second half and the Clippers stunned the 76ers 102-101. The Clippers survived a 40-point performance from the red-hot Joel Embiid to pull off the victory.
“Just keep scrapping like this team has been doing all year,” explained Lue. “That’s our motto: Just scrap to the finish. We all just stayed with it. It was a team win.”
Two weeks earlier, the Clippers stormed back from down 25 points against the Denver nuggets. They scored just 28 points in the first half after another horrendously slow start. They turned the game around in the second half and outscored the Nugs 32-19 in the fourth quarter to win 87-85. The Nuggets couldn’t connect from downtown and shot just 12.1% from 3-point range with an ugly 4-for-33 clip.