The Los Angeles Clippers knew what was at stake heading into Wednesday night’s regular-season finale against the Sacramento Kings. Win the game and they clinch home-court advantage against the Memphis Grizzlies. Lose and they open the first round of the playoffs on the road.
To complicate matters, the game would possibly be the last ever played in Sacramento at Sleep Train Arena, as it has yet to be decided by the NBA whether the franchise will be sold to a group planning to move the Kings to Seattle and become the Supersonics in the offseason or stay in Sacramento with new, local ownership. As a result, Kings fans were loud and passionate, and the players -- despite having nothing to play for in the standings -- were inspired.
Before tipoff, the Clippers were notified that both the Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets had won earlier in the day, adding even more pressure.
The game was set up for the Clippers to fail, and they almost did, barely eking out a 112-108 win over the emotional Kings. With the win, the Clippers capped off the most successful regular season in franchise history on a high note, setting records in home wins (32) and road wins (24), to go along with a slew of other milestones.
Blake Griffin, who tweaked his back shooting during warmups and posted only seven points (3-of-10 shooting) and four rebounds, had a momentary scare late in the first half when he fell on his backside and had to leave the game with back spasms. He returned in the second half, albeit visibly hobbled and limited. After the game, he said he felt fine and it shouldn’t be an issue in the playoffs.
Here are three takeaways from Wednesday night’s regular-season finale:
Game of runs
Neither team played consistent basketball, but the Clippers’ talent disparity was enough to overcome the Kings’ isolation-heavy offense. The Clippers started the second quarter on an 11-1 run, then maintained that pace to hold a 54-46 edge at halftime. But after the Clippers took a 59-50 lead with 9:14 remaining in the third quarter, the Kings responded with a 10-0 run of their own to take their first lead since the first seconds of the game. Paul soon took control and helped L.A. regain the lead. Marcus Thornton certainly made things interesting for the Kings in the fourth with a flurry of 3-pointers. The Clippers were still only up by three points with seven seconds left before Paul made one of two free throws for the final margin.
Crawford’s record-setting night
As Crawford’s third 3-pointer sank through the net, he passed Rasual Butler (145) for the most 3-pointers in a single season by a Clipper. By the time the game was over, Crawford had made six 3-pointers, setting the new mark at 149. His last two 3-pointers, though, were arguably the most important. First, he gave the Clippers a 100-98 lead off a step-back 3-pointer with 2:08 left. Then he made a corner 3 to put the Clips up 103-98 with 1:37 remaining. Griffin and Paul made key baskets down the stretch, and Billups nailed important free throws, but Crawford’s 24 points and six assists were the difference.
“Jamal Crawford made big shot after big shot,” Paul said after the game.
Securing home court
With the victory, the Clippers (56-26) tied the Grizzlies (56-26) for the fourth-best record in the West but secured home-court advantage for the series. The Clippers, by virtue of winning their division, earned home-court advantage in the tiebreaker. Even if that wasn’t the rule, the Clippers won the season series with the Grizzlies 3-1, so they would’ve had the tiebreaker anyway. The Clippers will host Game 1 against the Grizzlies on Saturday night, which is a step up from last season, when L.A. had to win Games 1 and 7 in Memphis before capturing their first-round series.